“Alright, we’re missing thirteen suitcases.” That was the last thing I wanted to hear at midnight while in the Parisian airport two summers ago. I was on a student ambassador trip with People to People to Europe, specifically France, Italy, and Greece. The airport was deserted; all I wanted to do was eat dinner and go to bed, and there were twenty-eight other students whose feelings were commensurate. Thirteen suitcases were unaccounted for but we headed to our first hotel in hopes of receiving our luggage the next morning.
I was devastated; it was my first trip outside the country without my parents, and I was already wishing they were there. This was my chance to prove myself as a young woman of maturity at age fifteen, but all I wanted to do was cry and call my mom. Now this really was a chance for me to grow up, but not quite the way I had imagined. Not only was I out of my comfort zone, but I wasn’t even able to wear my new clothes specifically purchased for the trip. I was upset about my luggage but determined to remain positive because I had another twenty days of exciting European adventures. The group leader said we should be receiving the luggage within two days; she was wrong. There was a worker’s strike at London’s Heathrow Airport, and we wouldn’t see our luggage the entire three-week trip. After the first week I decided it was time to be realistic, I wasn’t getting my clothes back. Ever.
In spite of this dilemma I still had an amazing time during the day visiting Versailles Palace, touring the Colosseum and ambling along the perimeter of the Parthenon; nighttime was when the trouble started. Luckily, I followed the organization’s packing guide and put an extra outfit in my carry-on, but due to my limited wardrobe selection I had to wash my clothes every night. My friends, those of whom were missing luggage, and I purchased laundry detergent and we’d have “Laundry Parties” in one of our rooms and do a few loads of laundry in the bathtub or sink. It was fun in the I-wish-I-were-just-doing-this-for-the-experience-not-because-I-have-to sort of way. Somehow, we managed and were even able to do some shopping to expand our outfit choices; I was able to limit my washing to every other night. Who would’ve guessed I’d be so happy to have an extra t-shirt and pair of shorts?
The trip taught me to be flexible, to adapt, and laugh at my problems. Naturally, I am a controlling person, so the experience forced me to deal with uncertainty. I always hoped my suitcase would be at the end of my bed in the morning; I even dreamt it would be, literally. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t have my suitcase. I needed to be thrust out of my element and forced to do things I wasn’t used to doing, like washing my clothes — especially in a bathtub. It was a learning experience for me and caused me to grow up, as hard as it was. I learned that plans go awry, but I was in Europe traveling with my best friend and sister, so it couldn’t be that bad! Three weeks was the perfect length of time to learn that laughing truly makes the seemingly worst situations quite enjoyable.
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