Travel Epiphanies and Night Ferries

“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.

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Saying Goodbye and Decompressing

In my very first post, on the eve of my departure, I wrote about how I knew I’d be making strong bonds and friendships with the people I’d be traveling with. Little did I know how strong and powerful those bonds would be, so soon into my trip. It sounds so cliché to say, I know, but truly, my life has been changed from the 25 days I spent abroad. And most of it has to do with how I did it, and who I traveled with.

The night of our farewell dinner started off in the hostel bar where we all had some drinks before walking to the restaurant. One by one, we all eventually made our way down there and we started talking about our trip, our favorite memories, and our flights home. I didn’t want to believe that this really was our last night together, I was having so much fun chatting with everyone but it was hard to ignore the fact because it was the topic of our discussions.

We made it to the restaurant, and the dinner went by as fast as the trip! I remember talking to my table about what our favorite cities were, how much we enjoyed our group, and everything else you would talk about at a farewell dinner. Later in the night a lot of us got up and mingled at other tables, then we walked back to the hostel. The night was still early (especially for Barcelona), and I know none of us wanted the night to end, so we ended up straight back at the hostel bar! The bar was a lot more crowded than it was when we left, and we all just hung out and drank some more.

The night was winding down, and my heart was getting sadder. I had been dreading our last night for at least a week, and I tried my best to shove it out of my mind and to live in the moment, so when the actual moment came for our last night, I had no choice but to live in it. I started crying when two girls, Gabby and Carly, left for the night. I really did start to lose it when I was outside with Megan, Darren, and Kevin. Kevin was being so cute and sweet and was telling Darren how much fun and amazing our trip was, and as I was listening to him talk, I started crying more and more. It was one of the very few times in my life that I’ve cried in front of people, but I didn’t care. I just had to.

I eventually made it up to bed, I had to be up really early for my flight home the next day. I woke up the next day feeling as depressed as ever, but I can only chalk that up to being a good thing because it meant that I had the best time of my life. We all said our goodbyes at the airport, which was honestly a blur and I don’t think I said goodbye to everyone which I feel bad about. Luckily, Ashlee was on my flight to Atlanta, and we both had long layovers there, so we hung out for a bit before we had to part ways for our flights home.

Now that I’ve had a few days to decompress and reflect on my trip, it absolutely was, hands down, the best time of my life. Every single day I felt happier than the last, and I found myself laughing at new memories every day. I’ve yearned to travel for as long as I can remember, and most of the time it felt impossible, especially the past few years. Having finally got the opportunity to do so, I honestly can’t imagine it could have been any more perfect than it was. The trip fulfilled every thing I could have possibly wanted it to, and then some. It sounds so lame, but there were so many times in my trip where it felt like the stars aligned and things just seemed too perfect for me.

Obviously visiting so many amazing places was what made my trip so magical, but I feel so grateful and lucky that I got to experience those moments with the people I was traveling with. I completely underestimated how great it is to travel and bond with a bunch of strangers and become so close to them in such a short amount of time. I decided to travel with a group for the convenience, little did I know what a great decision it was because I made so many new friends.

Many of us were traveling solo, and it’s funny how quickly you will bond with people when you are forced to. I am normally a pretty guarded person when you first get to know me, but I felt myself getting so close and comfortable with everyone really quickly, and it felt like we had known each other for years and years. I was telling and sharing things with my new friends that I haven’t even shared with my friends back home. There were so many different personalities in my group, and we all came from very different backgrounds, but we all got along together so well and I loved spending time with everyone. I didn’t feel weird or out of place with a single person in my group, there was always someone to talk to or hang out with. During our free time, it was always so easy to find a person to go out with because there was at least one person interested in doing something that you wanted to do.

There were times where I thought it was just too crazy how similar I was with certain people in my group and how, by chance, we ended up signing up for the same trip and ended up traveling together. Ashlee and I were roommates together in Dublin, and we roomed together in every other city after that because we just had so much in common and we got along so well. We were always on the same page, and we were just great travel companions. I don’t know how it worked out so well, but it really did! It just felt like the stars aligned and we were supposed to meet and become roommates in our first city. I had so many of those “We were supposed to meet!” moments on my trip with many other people, I don’t know if I believe in a higher power, but it’s times like that where it’s hard not to.

Another reason why my trip was so great was because of my tour director! Darren was just so awesome! He was so funny, cool, and he really made sure we were all prepared and ready to take on each city. It felt like we were traveling with a close friend, rather than a chaperone taking us around place to place. Darren made sure we were always at the right place at the right time for certain events, and was always so patient with us when he was explaining important details like public transportation, directions, meeting points, etc. He was so casual about everything, but he worked really hard behind the scenes to make sure everything was seamless for us. He would circle important points on all of our maps, write down the addresses of our hotels on the maps, and he always had interesting facts and anecdotes about each city or monument we were visiting. He also set up some optional excursions for us in each place that were so much fun and a lot of them were the highlights of my trip. Going to Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris was definitely one of my favorites, and Darren read us quotes from Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, which was a real nice touch.

Darren was also such a good sport with our crazy group too, dealing with us messing with him on a constant basis, whether it was hijacking his phone and updating his Facebook status, trying (and failing) repeatedly to impersonate his English accent and British speak (swimming costumes?), or all of us wondering why the hell he was so obsessed with Notting Hill… But Darren also had his fun at our expense too! Making fun of our American accents (Feck off! Ehkwerddddd.), constantly pulling pranks on us and messing with us with his straight-faced sarcasm. I’ve never been on an EF tour before, but it’s hard to imagine there are any better tour directors than Darren!



The memories made on this trip will stay with me forever, and going on this trip only solidified what I always knew, that I need to travel and see the world. I know my traveling adventures are far from over, and new memories will be made, but I don’t think anything I will do will be able replicate how amazing my first time overseas was, for the reasons I just wrote about. Yes, seeing the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and going to the top of Mt. Pilatus were amazing and life changing, but the small moments of me getting to know everyone on my trip and having intimate conversations with them was what set this tour apart from any other tour across Europe. Whenever I told people back home that I was going to Europe for a month, everyone responded the same way, saying that I was about to have a life changing experience. Of course I believed them, but it was hard to truly grasp what they meant until I came home and realized how much my life has been changed and enriched. I fell in love with so many things while I was there, and learned so much. Now I just can’t wait to move onto the next chapter in my life which hopefully includes a lot of traveling, and coming back in contact with all of my new friends.

Message from our hostel in Barcelona
 

 Our trip’s theme song!