For me, the trip that started it all – my desire to see the world, my travel blog and the fact that I’m now living in Prague – was my trip to Europe in 2012.
This wasn’t my first trip. I’ve actually been travelling since I was a baby. I was originally born in Vancouver and moved to Toronto when I was only a few months old. As a kid, I took vacations with my parents to places like Florida and the Dominican Republic, and even did a cruise around the Caribbean. As a teenager, we did trips out to the west coast, visiting LA and Vancouver. And I even joined my family friends on a five week long trip to the Philippines and Korea when I was 14.
After graduating from high school, I marked the milestone with a one month volunteer trip in the Dominican Republic. And the year after, post my freshman year at UBC, I set out on another volunteer trip, this time to Peru.
So by 2012, I was fairly well-travelled. I wouldn’t call myself a world traveller yet but I had been to a few places.
How did the trip happen?
Europe 2012 actually came around almost by accident. It wasn’t something I had really planned. I went on this trip the summer after my second year of university. During that year at UBC, I really struggled. I was feeling completely unmotivated and dispassionate about my life. I remember staying up many nights until 3:00 AM just searching online for something that would catch my attention. I would purposefully put off studying or homework, because I just couldn’t find the inner motivation to get anything done.
That’s when I found travel blogs. The first travel blog I ever stumbled upon was Why Wait To See The World (previously: Twenty Something Travel). I completely fell in love with Steph’s storytelling and the incredible adventures she was going on. I soon found myself amassing a collection of beloved travel blogs and staying up even more nights reading through all of the posts.
So, naturally, I decided to start my own. The very first version of Teaspoon of Adventure was born in early 2012 in the wee hours of the morning in my university dorm room. I didn’t have much to write about and I wasn’t travelling, but I knew I wanted to be. I knew I had to get out there.
Soon after pressing publish on my first post, my mom and I headed off to San Francisco for my reading break week. She was coming from Toronto and I was coming from Vancouver. My mom actually ended up missing her flight, which meant I spent one night in San Francisco alone. At 19, I had never spent a night alone in a new place before. I know San Francisco isn’t exactly a foreign country, but it was still incredibly liberating.
I had to figure out how to get myself from the airport to the hotel and entertain myself for the night. I ended up spending the night wandering around Fisherman’s Wharf, admiring the views, eating In N Out and visiting the sea lions. I even went to the hotel gym for a little late night workout session (which is not a habit I have kept up). It was so cool to be by myself in a new city!
After months of being bored and restless in my dorm room, I finally had a little taste of travel and I wanted some more. I immediately began seeking out opportunities. And I thought I had found the perfect one! Through all of my late night internet scrolling, I had stumbled upon a program in Italy that hired English speaking university students to come to Italy for the summer and lead summer camps. The position was camp counsellor, English tutor and drama teacher all rolled into one. After watching a few videos, I was immediately sold!
Unfortunately, my internet research didn’t prove fruitful enough. By the time I sent in my application (after getting the Italian camp program approved as a co-op placement through my school), I had already missed the deadline. I’m fuzzy on the details as to why I missed the application – did I procrastinate or did I just not find out about the program soon enough? But either way, I missed it.
I had pinned all of my hopes on this program; I was so excited to run off to Italy for the summer. I had made zero other plans.
So when it all fell through, I had nothing to do but pack up my college dorm room and head back to my parents’ in Toronto for the summer. If I was feeling down and restless back in my Vancouver dorm, I was feeling even worse back at my parents’. It’s such a weird feeling to return home when you spend eight months of the year living independently (or, as independent as dorm living is) on the other side of the country. And it’s even worse when you come back without a job or a plan.
So there I was, moping around my parents’ place with no plan for how I would spend the rest of my summer. When all of a sudden, a Facebook post caught my eye. A friend of mine shared something on Facebook that, little did I know, would change the course of my life. She shared a multi-city flight deal: Toronto to London and Lisbon back to Toronto for $415 CAD.
Now, this is before I became the cheap flight guru that I am today. I had never seen a flight for so cheap! I was totally blown away and didn’t even believe the numbers were real. Immediately, my heart started racing. Could I do this? Could I go to Europe? Could I have an actual adventure this summer?
My first step was to text a few friends who I knew were relatively free that summer and see if anyone wanted to join. But I learned (a lesson I would keep learning in the years to come) that flight deals wait for no man, and that it’s very hard to get someone to commit to a sponataneous trip over a few rushed texts. I abandoned that plan and decided I would go solo.
Yup, I would go on my first solo trip. And it would be my first time to Europe. And I would be leaving in less than a week!
Being 19, and incredibly undecisive, I had to talk things over. In between commercials (my dad was watching the NBA finals), I talked to my dad and called my mom. They were both on board. And so, I booked it! I was officially heading off to Europe for the very first time all on my own!
The details of Europe 2012
The actual trip was incredible. It was all sorts of crazy highs and insane lows. I learned so much, did so much, made so many mistakes and had so many victories. I was pumping out a blog post a day (you can search the archive to find them all) to share my travels with friends and family back home. Instead of curated and informative travel blogs, the posts read as diary entries and public letters to my loved ones back in Canada. My blog became my way to stay in touch and to bring everyone to Europe with me.
So here’s how the actual trip went: I started in London, where I promptly fell in love with the city. Over the years, I’ve been back to London six times and love it just as much each time I return (I can’t believe we’ve been in Prague for four months and I haven’t been back yet!). I saw Broadway shows, waved at the Queen at Buckingham Palace, walked along the Thames, visited museums and got absolutely soaked in a typical British rain shower (that forced me to buy a very attractive and not at all touristy Union Jack sweatshirt).
From London, I moved onto Paris. And once again, I fell in love (though my love for London is stronger). In Paris, I went to a fashion show, had a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower and walked across the Seine in a new dress I bought myself. I did such a good job fitting in that twice I was asked for directions!
Next, I took the train from Paris down to Nice. The south of France was HOT and my hostel situation was not ideal. To fix that travel snafu, I promptly checked myself into the hotel next door (with air conditioning!) and learned what a difference a few dollars can make. I took the bus over to Monaco and stared dreamily at the view over the ocean.
Moving on from France, I headed to Barcelona and Madrid. In Barcelona, I ate fresh fruit from Mercado de La Boqueria, wandered around Park Guell and ate ice cream in front of Sagrada Familia. I also had a huge meltdown in the subway station, learning what it was like to be a vulnerable mess in public, and how many kind people will offer to help you. In Madrid, I joined a cheesy hop-on hop-off tour bus as I had gotten tired of planning itineraries. It worked out perfectly as I met another fellow solo traveller and we spent the day exploring together!
My last stop was Lisbon. After missing my bus out of Madrid (yet another travel fail), I arrived in Lisbon a day late and decided to treat myself to another hotel upgrade. I spent my first night watching Say Yes To The Dress (in Portuguese but with English subtitles) and eating chicken and pasteis de nata in my big comfy hotel bed. After exploring the city a bit more the next day, it was finally time to head home.
I don’t know if anything changed immediately when I got home. It wasn’t like I declared myself a travel blogger then and there and went off to book my next flight. But there was certainly a shift. I was more confident and my world had all of a sudden expanded beyond my dorm room bubble. I knew there was so much more out there and so much more I wanted to do.
I finished out that summer turning 20 and picking up an internship at a magazine, among a few other writing jobs. Almost none of them were paid (and if they did pay, it was pennies) but I was writing and getting published. I still have the clipping from my very first published article – that was about four sentences long!
Looking back, I can see how the trajectory of my life changed quite a bit following that Europe 2012 trip. In the fall, I went back to UBC and once again moved into the dorms, working as a Residence Advisor for the second year. It may have looked like the same old thing I had done the previous year, but it was different. I applied for co-op jobs, international internships and study abroad programs.
Which is how I found myself in 2013 doing a co-op placement at a non-profit that would go onto hire me after graduation, interning in Swaziland for three months while earning school credit, travelling through Australia for a month while studying online because I won a free flight, and preparing to study abroad in Amsterdam the following January. I honestly don’t think any of that would have happened if I hadn’t said yes to that spontaneous solo trip to Europe in the summer of 2012.
I don’t know if I can put into words exactly what that trip did for me (though obviously the 2000 words here say otherwise), but I know it made a big impact. Planning a trip all by myself and being solely responsible for my travels made me more confident. I knew I could be independent and depend on myself to get things done. Taking a risk encouraged me to take more risks and go after what I want. And getting that first taste of travel that wasn’t just a family trip or sticking to someone else’s schedule made me eagre to get back out there and do it again.
I still look back on my first solo trip to Europe seven years ago as one of the best moments of my life. I remember being totally amazed by sunsets over the Seine and a performance of Wicked. I also remember feeling so incredibly tiny and insignificant as I walked through a crowded Barcelona metro station. I distinctly remember thinking that no one around me knows who I am and no one back home knows exactly where I am. It was both a humbling moment to realize how big the world around me really is.
If someone had told 19 year old me, who was busy scrolling through travel blogs in her dorm room at 3:00AM, that in seven years I would be living in Prague with 40+ countries under my belt, I don’t know if I would’ve believed it. And I definitely wouldn’t have believed it if you told me I’d also be living in Prague with my partner of almost five years and our dog, as an international landlord, and working fulltime as a freelance writer/social media manager/travel planner. That would have blown my mind!
But I don’t think I would’ve thought any of it was impossible either. I have always been a dreamer and a planner. As lost as I felt back in 2012 before my Europe trip, I was still dreaming of possibilities and planning for the future. It’s something I still spend a lot of time doing (at any given moment I have a handful of pre-planned trip itineraries ready to go).
Looking back, I can see how that first solo trip to Europe changed how I would spend the rest of my university years, where I would travel, and even what I would pursue as a career. There’s no way I would be living in Prague as a writer today were it not for that trip. Many trips that I have taken in my life have changed me but none so drastically as Europe 2012. I am so grateful for every star that aligned to make that trip possible, because it’s given me the greatest life!