2. When going to the bar with your French friends to watch France play in the Eurocup, to say you are an honorary Frenchwoman is an understatement — by the end of the night, you will be standing on top of your chair, huge French flag as your cape, waving it as you scream French chants (of which you have no idea the meaning).
3. Speaking of the Eurocup, I’ve decided I need to come back to Europe every 4 years just to be here for it. I was in Austria and Switzerland in 2008 when they were both hosting the games. I was in Malta this year for most of the games, in Riomaggiore during Italy’s semi-final victory versus Germany, and in Barcelona for Spain’s victory versus Italy to take the championship. There is just this contagious buzz, this indescribable energy that you just can’t get at home. (It’s kind of fun that the U.S. isn’t part of it because I get to float to whichever country I feel like and jump on their bandwagon).
4. When in Malta, upon hearing the series of loud booms that would probably seriously concern you if you were home and make you feel like a you’re in the midst of a drive by shooting, you are not even phased. Damn cannons. And the shooting of fireworks midday in broad day light.
6. When you meet Brits from the outskirts of England, they will be just as mesmerized by your accent as you are by theirs: “You sound straight out of Laguna Beach!!!” (TV show for those of you who are unaware.) And when your friend is actually from Laguna Beach, they will ask you how LC is doing.
7. When attempting to navigate through a packed crowd at the club, if some chick intentionally shoves you, keep walking. If you shove back, you will get punched in the face. Turning the other cheek is always a good rule of thumb.
Or… just make sure your girls are with you when you shove back.
There are b*tches everywhere.
9. A fun day at the small island of Comino can take a turn in a second. We saw a man — a husband and father of a young child, just out with his family enjoying a beach day — lose his life against the unexpectedly strong currents of the Blue Lagoon. We held our breaths and prayed as onlookers tried desperately to resuscitate him, as we waited for the medical team to arrive, and as the helicopter took him away. We got news later that he did not make it. My friends and I — and the entire island that grew eerily silent throughout the ordeal — got a harsh dose of the life lesson we too often hear, but too often forget: life is fragile, and can be taken in a moment.
10. Even if you don’t know much of the language of the country you’re visiting, even if you’re embarrassed, just try. They will appreciate it.
11. Cafe Cuba has THEE BEST banoffee pie in Malta.
13. Traveling alone can be scary, but is mostly wonderful. It has allowed me to learn so much more about myself.
When in Cinque Terre, the coastal hiking trail from Manarola to Corniglia was closed due to landslides. The lady at the information center told me that I could take the alternate 2-hour route. So I woke up around 6 a.m. to make my way. I thought that I’d found that alternate route she mentioned, but apparently I was taking the main road that cars pass through, so there were no people, just cars passing occasionally.
Making my way through the hills of Italy – just me, my backpack, just the crunch of my footsteps harmonizing with the sounds of the forest – for a second I thought that this must be how it was for my dad when he backpacked and hitchhiked through Europe for three years when he was young. I’ve been hearing stories of his adventures for as long as I can remember, and to think I was currently sharing an experience even remotely similar made me really happy (though the thought of his baby wandering solo on this lonely road would probably make him cringe).
14. When nature calls, you gotta go. There are ideal places to take care of business, then not so ideal places. I learned very quickly that the situation described above in number 13 is not ideal – mid-squat, I heard a car coming, so instinctively I dove into the bushes. Unfortunately my flight instinct did not take into account that I was on a hill, and that off the sides of the roads were straight, rocky drop-offs. There I was, bare ass, clinging on to the side of the hill, staring at a huge spider, waiting for the car to pass. I never thought that simply trying to relieve myself could be so life threatening.
15. Always have extra toilet paper on hand. PUBLIC BATHROOMS NEVER HAVE ANY DAMN TOILET PAPER. And girls, get your squat game right, because toilet seat covers don’t exist.
17. In Riomaggiore, the bartender I’d met at Bar Centrale invited me to his home for a BBQ with his coworkers. It was the cutest, most picturesque home you could imagine. He had a small garden filled with his own vegetables and herbs, overlooking the hills so closely stacked with the little, colorful buildings which almost seemed to overlap one another. I could hear the sounds of clanking of kitchenware, as well as the voices of old Italian women. Past the lemon trees next door, I could see into the neighbor’s kitchen window. I could see the women of the family, from what looked like from every generation, in the kitchen preparing dinner together. So that’s where that amazing smell was coming from.
My attention turned back to my own party. As I sat there, enjoying a local beer, salad fresh from the garden, grilled eggplant, and spicy pork ribs hot from the barbeque (so delicious), I sat back and listened to them conversate in Italian. One of the girls was telling a story. Her mannerisms, the inflections in her voice, and her body language led me to believe that this girl was hilarious, regardless of the fact that I couldn’t understand a word. She had everyone laughing. After a couple minutes, my friend would apologize that everyone was speaking Italian, but it didn’t even matter. For one, the language is beautiful and I enjoyed just listening. But more importantly, I realized that sometimes words aren’t essential. Sharing in common our love for food and for the beautiful summer night we were enjoying together was really all the communication we needed.
Language is only as much of a barrier as you let it be.
19. When traveling, never let your guard down. My dad has always been psycho about making sure we don’t leave anything unattended for a second, and that we don’t let strangers watch our bags, or watch any strangers’ bags. Basically, he’s trained us to think that everyone’s a bad guy and to be terrified of the world. So I know better. But waiting in the hostel to check-in in Barcelona, I put my backpack down for a second, as it was soaking wet from coming in from the downpour. It seems that in that second, it disappeared. When the hostel employees tried to help and played back the surveillance footage, we saw it all play out. That old lady asking you random questions in Spanish? The decoy. Dude quietly sitting in the chairs behind you? The bag swooper. Luckily, I had my passport, monies, and laptop with me. HAVE FUN WITH ALL MY DIRTY CLOTHES, assholes!
20. The feeling of taking any kind of leap is oddly universal. Talking to my friend Kristin, we shared the similar rush before jumping off the cliff into the waters of St. Peter’s Pool: butterflies, then the skipped beat as you approach the edge. “I’m nervous right before I jump, but once I’m in the air, I’m fine.” Absolutely.
And here comes the take away:
You never really get the hang of it, and you never stop learning.
And just when you think you do, life likes to show you, sometimes in its most dramatic fashion, that you’re a little sh*t in this big wide world, and you really don’t.
Whether you are moving across the world, trying to settle in, country hopping on holiday, or coming back home to the States — it never stops. That’s what can make it all feel so relentless at times, that’s what makes it so damn difficult.
But it’s what keeps us grounded, makes us better. That’s what makes the process so rewarding. And what makes the ride so beautiful.