Explorations, adventure, and independence in Europe | My Family Travels

 

  Whenever I think of travel to Europe, fantasies flit into my mind of riding off on motor scooters for harrowing European adventures (à la Passport to Paris, a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen classic). Of course, Hollywood has a tendency to stray from reality a bit—but a girl can dream. These lingering fantasies burst into bloom when my chimerical dream to participate in a travel program turned into reality. When the plane jolted onto European soil, I was still secretly hoping some Hollywood-worthy adventure would materialize.

   I doubt Hollywood big-shots will be clamoring to make a movie of my excursion, but because of the bubble-bursting adventure and boosted independence, it was the experience of a lifetime. Despite the fact that I am a creature of habit (and a shy one at that), I chose a travel group, Travel for Teens, and destinations of Paris, Belgium, and Amsterdam, knowing that this trip would catapult me far beyond my comfort zone. Flying alone for the first time in my life was only the beginning. I didn’t know anyone on the trip, a situation that was both terrifying and exhilarating. The experience of the food, people, culture, and sights of Europe was mind-blowing in itself, but this venture outside my bubble was truly the recipe for adventure.

   In all the whirling chaos of my travel memories, there is one snapshot that epitomizes my trip-of-a-lifetime story. Whatever possessed our trip leaders to allow thirty teenagers free range in Amsterdam is beyond me. But there we were, departing the questionable Manofa hostel, diving through crowds and high on excitement. In one miniscule alley, there was a little tattoo and piercing shop, the site of my one act of rebellion. I have no doubt that there are far worse things a liberated teenager in Europe could get into. But as much as I would like to deny it, I am a goody-goody at heart. A belly-button piercing was about as rebellious as I got. A slight tingle of apprehension passed over me when I saw the menacing steel instruments, but it was over in a flashing sting and I was left with a small, sparkling memento of rebellion. Perhaps a foolish memento, but a representation of my newfound independence and adventure all the same.

   The rest of the trip blurred by in a rush of monuments, yummy bites, and constantly snapping cameras.  At the time, I was captivated by the people, places, and culture of Europe. It wasn’t until later that I realized what an experience it was to discover Europe on my own. The liberated explorations gave us a chance to discover and connect—with the places, with each other, with our own personalities. For two weeks, I had to take care of myself, meet new people, and try new things. Away from everything I knew, I was out of my comfort zone. Bursting out of that bubble, though, made the adventure even more incredible.

   There were times when waves of homesickness washed over me—especially in the midst of cramped hostels that brought out the spoiled suburban child in me. These moments were quickly swept away, however, by the adventures that awaited. Tangible remnants of these expeditions dot my room in the form of photos and souvenirs. The most valuable mementos linger, invisible but potent. New friends. Fond memories. An intoxicating sense of independence and freedom. A heightened determination to see the world. This was the pinprick to my bubble of sheltered normalcy, my Hollywood adventure— no motorcycles needed.

 

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