Monday, July 22, 2013


Summer 2004:

Kimberly and me ready for adventure! EuroTrip 2005!

Palace in Brussels, Belgium
Dad- "Why don't you ask me if you are allowed to backpack around Europe and I will tell you whether you can go?"
Claire (18)- "I am not going to ask you because you are going to say no and I am going to do it anyways."
Dad-"You haven't even asked me so you don't know what I am going to say."
Claire- "Can I travel around Europe next summer?"
Dad- "No!"
This is how the first conversations about a bubbling dream began. Dad was in a huff and I wasn't going to be told no. I spent the next two months looking for someone who would join me on this adventure because I knew I wasn't ready to do it alone but I was ready to do it. 

After many "maybes" and several "no's" I had dinner with my friend Kimberly. She and I had remained friends since the first day of 6th grade even though our friend groups were very different.
Amalfi coast line in Italy
Complaining about how none of my friends were going to go with me, Kim finally said, "Are you going to ask me to come or what?" I was taken aback. She was my best friend for ages and I had not thought to ask her. She and I had not ever talked about travel in all of our conversations and she had a boyfriend I figured she wouldn't want to leave for 5 weeks in a row. 

"Do you want to go with me to Europe?"

The Louvre in Paris, France
From that point on we planned everything out. From August to May 2004-2005 we spent our Freshman years getting together every Tuesday to plan our trip. We would meet at our favorite Mexican Restaurant (Maria's) and would devour "special nachos" while we compared research we had done for the past week.In the meantime, we would babysit, work any jobs, and save every penny in order that we could afford this wonderful opportunity. (Dad has assured me that I could use none of the money I had saved for college and I could not put it on my credit card to pay off later. This would all have to be worked for and paid in full. Deal.)

Pompeii, Italy

Pointe Vecchio in Florence, Italy at sunset
I will never forget the feeling of purchasing those plane tickets. We both were all nerves, checking and rechecking that we typed our names  correctly and that all was in order. Then we bought our Eurail passes, then our backpacks and finally we were ready to go.
Our huge Italian glasses on Florence (before big glasses were cool)

This trip was more than just a chance to travel around Europe (which was the whole world to me at the time). This was a grand attempt at stretching our small town wings. We were kicking the dust off our boots and flying to a world we knew nothing about. It was something we were doing on our own, without our parents help. This was my first taste of true freedom and I was ravenous for it. 

The journey we decided on after ample research went like this:

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy
Fly into Brussels, Belgium. Train to Paris. Train to Munich and then to Fussen, Germany (to see castles!). Train to Berlin.


Train overnight to Switzerland. Train to Venice. Train to Florence. Train to Naples. Bus to Pompeii and Amalfi. Train overnight to Sicily to stay in Marsala. Train to Rome. Train to Pisa. Train back to Switzerland for a week in Lugano of hiking. Train to Belgium and fly home from Brussels. 
Lugano, Switzerland lower Alpine hike

Pompeii, Italy
We saw 5 countries in 5 weeks. We knew we had to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. At that time (before recession, etc). Kim and I spent around $500 on our round-trip plane tickets. Then we spent around $400 on our 21 travel day youth flexi-passes from Eurrail which let us ride all trains in countries that we picked. We decided that we would only spend $15 to $20 a day on food and sight seeing opportunities and would try to only spend between $15-30 a night on hostels. We had very little money and it had to stretch for the whole trip. We had to utilized our friendships. We had 3 friends who went to our high school as exchange students. We had a dear friend from high school studying abroad in Berlin. My college roommate's aunt and uncle lived and taught abroad. My boyfriend at the time was back home in Switzerland after a year in the USA. With all of those relationships we managed to have quite a few home stays.
Eiffel Tower in Paris, France
We didn't know anything about this at the time, but home stays are really important for a seasoned traveler. When you stay with locals you get a view of the city you wouldn't have experienced otherwise. You get what Rick Steeves likes to call "back door" adventures which is a chance to see something that tourists wouldn't see written in their travel guides. You get to hear and try to use the language of the city you are visiting. Home cooked meals, safety advice, good bars, clubs, views and stories are all shared when you sleep on the couch of a friend from another place. We learned so much about culture by staying with friends on this journey.
Kim with Mona Lisa, Louvre in Paris
Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy

Kim and I tried to prepared as much as we humanly could using books and Internet to guide us into this journey. We were going to be safe. We would not be the two American girls who disappeared and were never heard from again. We were going to show ourselves (and our parents) that we were capable of something awesome. 

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy
Potsdam, Germany miles of Palaces
Our first attempts at figuring out public transit were comical. After arriving in Belgium, Anais (our exchange student friend from Belgium) sent us on our train to Paris. We panicked when we stopped in Antwerp because we didn't recognize it. I was sure we just ended up in Germany and had somehow gotten on the wrong train. I can only imagine what that poor conductor thought of me chasing him down and begging to know (in English) if we were still in Belgium. 

Then arriving in Paris, we did not know how to get from our hostel from the train station so we hopped a cab. It seemed like every single car in Paris ended up at our first intersection. Then all the lights turned and every car plowed to the middle of the 4-way (our cab included). We were screaming and holding on for dear life as our driver just laughed. Then we paid a fortune ($49 Euros!) for that ride which killed two days of our budgeted money. Next came the map! I've already sited this farce in Eiffel Tower. Finally, our friend Stephen taught us to use the subway and soon this traveling business started to make sense.

Visiting my Italian sister in Marsala, Sicily
We learned to exchange our money. We had to try and speak the languages of the cities we visited. We had to trust strangers, make friends, and allow for spontaneous stray from the plan. We negotiated with banks on the phone in America when our Credit cards would get blocked, then we would negotiate in Italy to try and take out cash. We had to speak up for ourselves at passport control, and ask for directions on trains. It was the most empowering experience of my young adulthood.

Gelato...anywhere in Italy.
My mom told me she was praying for me everyday. I was praying for us everyday. Kim and I rarely prayed together but on this trip there were plenty of moments where we would praise God or beg for help. Being away from the safety of our childhood bubbles made God so apparent to us. We joked that mom's prayer angels were protecting us the entirety of our trip. The laughing old ladies that appeared chasing a lamb at 1 a.m. in Fussen Germany, the youth hostel worker who spoke English, Lado who showed us around and drove us himself, the nameless man who walked us through an unexpected train-change, the old French couple who walked us to our hostel in a bad part of Naples at 11p.m, Dominique the captain of the ferry that protected us from his crew. All of these people have become angels for us. God was so close on this journey, breathing right next to us in our train cars, right into us through helping hands, living in our backpacks of supplies and food, guiding us down streets we would have probably missed on our own.

San Marco Square in Venice, Italy
My Dad was fearful of my journey abroad and he was right to be concerned about my safety. However, even he could see, upon my return, the wealth of knowledge that this trip had given me. 

Traveling on a Ferry to Amalfi, with Capri behind us.
I overheard him months later telling a friend how proud he was of me for planning that trip. 

He recalled that he didn't want me to do it because he thought that I would blow through my college money, get lost, only see my boyfriend, etc. He was so pleased to know how much Kim and I experienced and saw. He was proud that I raised all the money and paid for it myself. He was marveled by my responsibility and independence. I like to think that he believed I conquered something important. In my book, I had.

Pompeii, Italy
Dancing in Marsala, Sicily "Dance around the world of Kim!"
For my birthday that year, Dad bought me a world map. He gave me little red stickers that I could use to mark the places I had visited on my adventures. I have this map in my home still today. Slowly, or rather quickly for some people's standards, the red dots are creeping across the planet. Traveling has helped define me, empower me, it has helped shape my identity, it has given me a world view and taught me to be openly tapped into God's movements.

My parents allowed me a great gift that year. They let me grow up and grow out of my bubble. For that, I will always be grateful.