I am nervous as hell, sitting in my dorm room eating half an avocado, staring at my 40 pound backpack, wondering what else I can eliminate from it in order to make it less heavy because I know it will only get fuller when I come back from Europe in 35 days.
This is my first trip with friends, i.e. sans-parentals and siblings, to a continent I have never been before, where they speak languages I barely know.
The past few weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from estatic moments like the realization that I will finally be seeing the Eiffel Tower that has been on my wall and around my neck for years, to moments of absolute fear of the fact that I am going somewhere completely unknown, that we might stay at a dirty hostel, or worse, get kicked out of one because we only booked a 4 person room for 5 people 😉
But the fact that I am experiencing adrenaline and fear even before the trip has started is a good thing. It is, I like to think, my flight or flight response.
I am an extremely organized and prepared person, typically. The last week has given me a run for my money trying to book all my hostels and trains in a few days with seven other people, trying to coordinate schedules and not spend too many hours on layovers, and the like. I have barely had time to reflect on what is actually going to happen. But that’s ok, because I have a 10 hour flight to London and a 6 hour layover before I get to Rome. Lots of time for mid-continent/EU/UK reflection.
There are basically five steps to the planning process that I went through:
1. Research, Research, Research. Research the city you are going to be in briefly. Identify where the central core is. If you are not staying there for very long, you will want to save time by spending a bit more to stay where you are going to see things. Spending 4 hours looking for a hostel in Canada online will save you 4 hours wandering the crooked flooded streets of Venice trying to find an affordable, clean, and secure accommodation for you and your friends for the night. Read reviews! And use more than one booking site (good ones are http://www.hostelworld.com, http://www.hostelbookers.com, and then try searching for the accommodation’s own website to see if they have any deals)
2. Keep record of everything. I make endless lists. I sometimes make lists of things I have to make lists of. I have a packing list, a Sh** to get done before I leave list, a reading list. This morning, I printed off all my booking reservations for transport and accommodation, and consolidated them into an itinerary complete with contact info, addresses, check-in, check-out, arrival, and departure times, and the likes. I also printed all my academic readings, and will recycle them after I make notes from them in my journal. My hope is that I will lose weight in my bag from books and readings as I finish them and move from city to city.
3. Emergency Preparedness. Numbers for all the Canadian Consulates in the cities I am going to. Numbers and addresses for all of my dad’s company’s offices worldwide. Police, Fire, Ambulance for all countries/cities. Meeting spots and backup plans for meeting friends. Always stay with someone who has an iPhone 4 (yay, iMessage saves the day!)
Italy has experienced a slew of events that have made headlines. A school bombing in the south. Two large earthquakes in Bologna, the centre of Tuscany. Flood in Venice two weeks ago. Huge landslide that almost made Cinque Terre become Quattro Terre. But I am still going. The fear factor is an emergency preparedness response.
4. Packing. As the days went on, I thought of things that I should bring with me to Europe. I wrote them down in a handy packing list categorized into Toiletries, First Aid and Medical (this one was easy because I am travelling with a pharmacy student hehe), Clothes, Shoes, Electronics, School Supplies, and other things like a money bag, plastic bags, bottle opener, earplugs, and Canadiana to trade with other travellers.
Because of pickpockets and moments of un-mindfulness, most of the things I packed are versatile, and not expensive. Although they are perfect and I use them all the time, I left my Oakleys and seatbelt bag at home.
A friend who was over last night told me to bring clothes that could easily transition from walking around all day to going out at night. Although I replied “I don’t really want to go out too much”, he advised me to force myself to. The whole part of travelling where you go out and meet other people from other places intrigues me. Because I love doing that at bars here, but somehow the idea of doing it on an international level scares me a little bit. Plus, aren’t we all tourists, do I really have to look nice and not wear Lululemon all the time? Are yoga pants really socially unacceptable in Europe? Answers to these questions and more throughout my trip!
My Packing List:
– toothbrush and toothpaste
– folding travel hairbrush
– Moisturizer (body and face)
– Sunscreen, spf 30 for face, spf 50 sport for body
– Make up (eyeliner, eyeshadow, lip gloss, cover up)
– 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner in miniscule tiny bottles
– bodywash in another miniscule tiny bottle
– shammy quick dry antimicrobial towel and two face cloths
– mouthguard.. because I grind my teeth at night and it really freaks people out when they haven’t heard it before
First aid and medical:
– Anti itch cream for bites
– Antiseptic wipes for disinfecting
– Chinese herbal medicine incase I get sick
– Antacids (for drinking)
– Birth Control
– International health insurance
– 12 pairs of underwear
– 2 normal bras and one sports bra
– 1 denim long sleeved collared shirt
– 2 sun dresses and a black skirt
– jean shorts, day shorts, Lulu running shorts, and one pair of Lulu crops (I had to)
– 1 pair of jeans and one pair of Groove pants
– 1 bikini
– 1 raincoat, my North Face shell that packs into a tiny ball
– 1 hoodie and 1 cardigan
– 5 pairs of socks
– 3 Lululemon tanks with built in bras, one without
– 1 white tshirt, one white tank top, one black tank top, one coral beachy nice top
– Pyjama shirt and pants (deciding between pants and shorts was difficult for me because I always sleep in shorts but I think pants will a) protect me from any freaky hostel sheets and b) keep me warm incase the top sheets suck)
– 1 belt and one silk scarf
– Z baseball hat and a more useless beach type hat
– Cheap Urban Outfitters aviator sunglasses that I won’t care about if they break or get stolen
– Running Shoes
– Variety of pencils, line weight pens, coloured pens, eraser, pencil sharpener, pencil cases
– Readings.. so.. many.. readings
– All my travel books. I feel I may regret this decision later, but I hope to send Rome, Florence, and Venice back to Canada with one of my classmates, and then keep Paris and London with me for the remainder of the trip
– Angels and Demons, and the Da Vinci Code. Appropriate? I think so. When I am done, I am leaving them on a cafe table or used book store somewhere never to be found again.
– Money bag that holds passport and money around my neck
– Big and small ziploc bags.. you never know when you need to separate things and they will come in handy
– Bottle opener.. for fun times
– A bag to separate dirty and clean clothes
– Carabiners for hanging things off of my backpack
– Playing cards
– Travel sized clothes washing material
– My own pillowcase
– IPHONE!!!!!!!! Life saver. So much information can be stored on this as a backup, it can access wifi, take notes, convert currency, be a flashlight… and so much more. For instance, did you know when you are in a wifi zone, you can load a city map by zooming out as far as you need, and it will stay loaded on your phone. In this map later on, even when you don’t have wifi, you can hit the little “find me” button and it can still track you using GPS without data or wifi! Amazing! Next time, I will not bring my top ten travel guides that cost $15 each because they are all each available as an app for $5, and I bet you can actually click phone numbers and addresses and websites and access them on your phone. Amazing.
– Camera and camera charger
– Extra 4GB memory card for camera
– European plug converter
– I thought about bringing a USB with some digital files of your itinerary, readings, and any work that people might really need while I am away. Just incase. But. I think I am going to leave it at home. Take a real vacation you know?
5. Being in the present
Perhaps the most important part of planning is planning not to think about the future. Planning for this trip has made me realize that although living in the present and allowing for serendipity has been a goal for this summer, I am still fundamentally just more comfortable with some things planned. Knowing where I am going to be for how long on which days and where I am sleeping allows me the luxury of serendipitous adventures during my days in the cities I am seeing. Restaurants, sights, museums, and activities are all still unplanned! And that makes me so excited!! All the possibilities… all the people..
A lesson I learned a few years ago is that if you plan everything, you are always on the go thinking about the next activity. No time to sit at a cafe or piazza and people watch. No time to find gorgeous little local digs in cities that make them memorable. Not to mention the stress and disappointment if things don’t go the way you planned.. because the truth about the future is nothing goes as planned. Because it is not physically possible.
I am not bringing my Macbook, but I do have quickpress on my phone, so when I am in wifi, I will try to blog as often as possible with some pics from my phone. Now that I have written a 1500 word blog about this, I feel less anxiety. Phew.