All this talk of travel has me remembering my first real solo travel experience. In the summer of 1985, just before I graduated from college, I went on a self-guided tour of Europe.
It may sound extravagant, but when I think back to how scrimped and saved my money and how I traveled sleeping on trains, and in hostels, I know that I would never want to have that experience again. And yet, I would not trade that experience for anything.
I was 22 years old. I was working as a waitress while attending college. My friend, who was studying French, wanted to go to Europe that summer and speak with the natives. I thought that sounded great! I was nursing a broken heart and the thought of traipsing through 11 countries in six weeks sounded a lot more appealing than staying in a Southern California and running the risk of bumping into my ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend.
I read the travel books, planned our itinerary, applied for my passport and hostel card and, in a big splurge, bought a First Class Eurail pass. My friend and I planned to save money on accommodations by staying in hostels, and sleeping on trains. We heard how 2nd class cars were crowded with backpack-toting-college-aged cigarette- smoking students so we figured it was worth the extra expense if we could travel in a train car where we didn’t have to sleep standing up, breathing second-hand smoke.
In this photo, from the looks of the clean, roomy train compartment, I would say it was money well spent.
Traveling this way was a once in a lifetime experience. We had a planned itinerary, but we remained spontaneous along the way. We decided to take an overnight train from Amsterdam to East Berlin after hearing it was a great destination for the budget traveller. We met people along the way who opened up their homes to us. In Rome we spent the night in a convent after a local priest learned we needed a night’s lodging. As we crossed over the English channel from France to catch our flight home out of Heathrow Airport, we met a friendly Englishman and his family who put us up for a night and then drove us to the airport the next day.
At 22 years old, I was trusting and still naive enough to believe that being in another country meant I was free from harm’s way. Sadly, I don’t know that if I traveled this way again I would have the same rich experience filled with random encounters of both hospitality and adventure.