The plane still hadn’t arrived and they told us it would be a three hour wait. I sat in a row of isolated seats facing gate 7 while the rest of the people began to fill the larger group of seats to my far left. They sat down, one by one, with their overstuffed backpacks and comfortable clothing fit for a nine hour flight to London. I watched them every now and then, noticing when a new group of friends arrived until the gate was packed with college students anxious to start their 30 day adventure in Europe.
A part of me, the impulsive fun side that rarely makes an appearance, thought of getting up and integrating myself into the group I observed, the group that would be my roommates, bus companions and friends for the month of July. Just say hello, I thought. Or at the very least, sit nearby and listen to their comments about the trip.
But I couldn’t bring myself to join them, already so afraid of rejection or appearing like the girl who had already finished college and was at least three years older than the rest of the group. So I stayed in the awkwardly situated row of seats, facing the busy flight attendants, with my arms wrapped around my midriff and my headphones blasting.
Even with the music muffling all the sounds of the airport, I could still hear the cacophony from the group growing louder and louder until at least sixty people were exchanging stories and anecdotes of all their efforts to make it to this place, to this day. It was impossible to conquer them now, I was outnumbered.
This trip, a month long expedition to Europe, was the biggest decision I had made in my life. It took a year and a half to sign up, come up with the money and reserve our seats for this delayed plane. By then, I had already graduated college for about a year and most of the people here were just finishing their sophomore year.
My chosen companions: my Mother, who took me on my first trip to Europe when I turned 16 instead of planning me a party, and whom I knew would keep me on my toes for 30 days. My aunt, the other woman I always traveled with, who would fly in to London from Washington DC and meet us there, and my British Boyfriend, who was waiting for me in England.
The mission: to see over 11 cities of the continent, starting from London all the way down to the Greek Islands by the end of the month. To not waste a second with napping or eating at McDonalds but still find a way to get up at 6 am every day with enough energy for endless walking. To try every food, every type of pasta, every unfamiliar dish but still find a way to fit into the three pair of pants I had packed for the whole month. But most importantly, to not restrict the experience to the illusions formed before the trip or to following the imagined path we had thought deemed following since we started daydreaming about it more than a year ago. To simply let it happen, let it affect us, in the way the countries and the people and the food decide to do so.
Our purpose: Some would have said fun, others the first taste of wanderlust. But the truth was we were never entirely sure until the very last day. But I can remember that my original purpose was just to be present. To see, for myself and not through books or college professors, what Europe was like and what it would mean to me. There were other purposes like, crossing off my Bucket List visit to Mykonos or staying up all night in Amsterdam. To spend time with Mom in a different context than the mother-daughter scenario we were used to. To travel with my Boyfriend to all the places we had talked about for years. To think what I would do for the next few months if I didn’t get into Grad School. To get away from the familiar and find out whom I was when no one was watching.
I’ve always felt like a late bloomer. I take forever to make decisions and my emotions come bursting in a few hours after the moment has passed. I like to think of myself as impulsive but the truth is, after a certain time in my life, I became afraid of jumping.
Now, sitting and waiting for our three-hour delayed plane to arrive, it dawned on me I had already jumped, and not just from a ledge but from the highest bridge and I hadn’t even noticed. I was forcing myself away from everything I found comfortable, my small group of friends, my 9 to 5 job, any access to social media and instead I was diving head first into languages I couldn’t speak, four hour night sleeps and spending a good portion of every day in a bus.
I had made it. I had already jumped and if this is what free falling felt like, creeping fear sewn to the abundance of possibilities, I had a feeling I could handle it.
The flight attendant announced the 9 pm flight to London, Heathrow was ready to board and apologized quickly for the delay. Even though we had a long night flight ahead of us and a killer jetlag to follow, we all got up immediately and could barely stand still as we handed out our flight tickets and boarded the plane.