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Spontaneous European travel results in misadventures

Ruchi Asher

Issue date: 1/30/09 Section: Opinion
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Really, when it comes down to it, the only reason why anyone studies abroad is the opportunity to travel. In fact, on my first day at the London School of Economics (LSE), all of us were informed that while the initials of our university name may colloquially stand for "Let's See Europe," the university expected us to see a little less of Europe and a little more of our library. Of course, this did not temper our desire to push pins in our world maps. Winter holidays, therefore, were really the perfect excuse to see as many places as possible. With no classes and four long weeks ahead, how could we resist the opportunity to plan a somewhat impromptu trip to the south of Italy and Spain?

Travelling in this impulsive manner was nothing like I expected, despite the fact that I went in with no expectations. One moment, we were waiting for a bus to the airport at 3:30 a.m. and the next moment, I was sandwiched between two very large, snoring Italians on a flight to Sicily with no agenda other than to enjoy the sunshine. Sure enough, as we stepped off the airplane and onto the tarmac, the Sicilian sun smiled down upon me, and the warm Mediterranean breeze lovingly whispered that I was finally here. Sadly enough, this was probably one of the better moments of the entire three weeks of travel. Soon after my five minutes of glory and excitement, the storm clouds moved in and we realized we had landed in Trapani but our accommodation was in Palermo. Moreover, our first forays into communicating via sweeping arm movements and crude sign language proved to be only minimally more useful than our complete lack of knowledge of the Italian language. Suddenly, my Sicilian, sun-soaked paradise turned into a cold, wet nightmare.

Things did not get much better throughout the journey, but these are the parts of travelling that no one shares in hindsight. No one warned us that spontaneity often results in misadventures rather than adventures. As exciting as Leo made it seem in Titanic, racing desperately along the harbour to reach our ship before it left port with my luggage was an excruciating experience, one I would rather forget, in fact. Under-packing in the interest of airline luggage constraints turned out to be a very poor travel decision. Spontaneous backpacking meant we were equipped with no winter clothing and wearing the same six layers for two weeks straight; quite frankly, it felt disgusting. Getting lost in the Italian countryside after 18 seasick hours without food or solid ground most certainly was not a desirable experience. When Christmas Eve finally arrived, we huddled together with thousands of strangers in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, cold and exhausted, and all we could possibly comprehend was how much we would have rather been at home with our families.

Still, somehow, by the time my return flight crossed the English Channel, the hours of misery, boredom, and desperation from this trip, as if by some charm, began melting out of my memory. The awkwardness of being caught by ticket collectors and the horror of getting lost in Trastevere at 5 a.m. somehow slipped my mind. Instead, images of standing on top of Mount Vesuvius, eating gelato and roasted chestnuts at the Fontana Trevi, and trekking through the mountains around Monreale swam through my head, filling my letters home with wonderful stories of the beautiful places we had seen. The stories that made it past my selective memory were indeed exciting and inspiring, and I can fool even myself into wanting to go through the whole backpacking experience again. Still, while it ultimately was a worthwhile experience, I can safely say this: backpacking is not for the weak.

Ruchi Asher is a third-year economics and international studies major studying at the London School of Economics for the year.

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In This Issue


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