May 21


A Tale of Two Travelers: Traveling To Europe for the First Time By Yourself

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
— Lao Tzu

On my way to the airport, I was having mixed feelings about my first trip to Europe. Traveling to Europe for the first time by yourself is a trip! I wasn't traveling internationally for the first time. I had almost canceled my trip altogether as the anxiety attacks became more frequent; however, I had to ask myself, “What do I have to lose?”  The night before I was packing my Beetlejuice (that’s the name of my suitcase) narrowing down my packing list and coming up with scenarios in my head.

“Oh my god! What if I have to go out to a fancy dinner?!”

First off, this logic gets you nowhere fast.  On top of that, the packing list that I had gone over plenty of times over the course of a week did not include a fancy dinner.  If it's one thing I've learned since keeping a packing list at hand, is that we attempt to make these stories up in hour heads on why we need something: an extra pair of shoes, a handbag, or scarf.  You have to be realistic otherwise you will be lugging it around town. Basically, mine started out like this:

About a year ago I found this packing list on and it helped me organized my thoughts and wardrobe.  As you can see, I added a color palette to make things easier.  Once you have figured out what activities you might do and of course check the weather you can pretty much narrow down your selection. If you can see a common theme written in this travel planner, you get a nice fudge brownie a la mode. I tend to stick to neutrals and add a pop of color with makeup and scarves.  I carried only two scarves with me this time and one that could be used as a light blanket on the plane or a for an impromptu picnic at the park. As Alton Brown says, “NO UNITASKERS!”  I imported the PDF into Notability, an app similar to Evernote on my iPad, and modify it for each trip. It has helped out tremendously!

Florence and Miss Cindy

Upon arriving at LAX everything went by so fast. I had kissed both my husband and dog goodbye and I arrived early to allow myself enough time for check-in.  I stood in front of the marquee mesmerized by all of the cities on it.  After taking a quick snapshot I went ahead and decided to drop off my bag.  Yes, I realized I said carry on only.

So many places, so little time!

Unfortunately, the baggage allowances on European budget airlines are not as generous. I opted still for a small suitcase and my Longchamp Le Pliage which served as my carry-on. After reading Mireille Guiliano's “French Women Don't Get Fat” I had to find this bag.  It folds nicely when not in use, which makes it ideal for travel. I did not intend on getting it in white, but it was on sale.  The Longchamp Le Pliage is a wonderful investment. It saved me during a downpour in Washington D.C. last fall, it has traveled to México where I needed a nice bag free of ostentatious logos and more recently has served as the perfect carry-on and day trip bag. You'll see it in many of my posts and pictures because I use it so frequently.

Oh dear, looks like I'm next.  With my passport and dreams in hand, the gentleman at the counter asks a series of questions:

“Have you been in Europe in the last 6 months?”

“Are you carrying any explosives in your luggage?”

Answering no to both obviously, I was handed a luggage tag.  It became clear, I was on my way to Copenhagen; yet, it all seemed like a dream until I met Cindy at the security line.

She had the same nervous, lost, and confused look as I did; therefore, I decided to strike up a conversation and we didn’t stop until she was off to Düsseldorf on the first leg of her trip. Cindy, a chef from the LA area and in her mid-30’s, decided to take her first international trip just a week ago. The reason I mentioned age is because we had a discussion on why people seem to think that being over 30 means you are dead and that you are not allowed to do things for the first time.  Two middle-aged women embarking on a life-altering trip, some say it’s impossible.  We say, “Let’s go!”

Cindy expressed her fears and expectations.

“What if they lose my luggage?!”

I assured her that we’d be fine and that by the time we arrived at our destinations all of our fears would have wither away and that moment will belong to us. She had no idea I was going for two weeks to two different countries as I only mentioned Berlin and how excited I was for the polyglot conference.  She was on her way to Florence, and as a chef, I can only assume an opportunity to play with a palette of new flavors. I was excited for her. Neither of us spoke the local language. Although Italian does resemble Spanish, I was completely fucked with German and Dutch. Recently concentrating my studies on Russian, my German consisted of only a few key phrases and Kraftwerk lyrics.

“You have to have wine!” As in reminding her why people go to Italy.

Surprisingly, we had a lot in common and probably the reason why we couldn’t stop yapping.  She’s also a pianist, Mexican, loves good food and wine.  Sign me up!  As we said our goodbyes, we vowed to keep in touch during our trip.

“Send me a picture when you arrive!” I suggested since I wanted to see her first reaction to being in Florence.

Hours later after being tired, hungry, and agitated by easyJet I received this picture with the following text:

“My first glass of wine in Italy.  Hope you made it safe to Berlin.”

Bella! Miss Cindy and vino: a winning combination!

This is not the Cindy I met at the airport. Look at that smile!!  I wanted to send one back, but it would have been me giving the side eye, cold, and discombobulated trying to weather the elements in Berlin.  I wanted to live in her moment and didn’t want to spoil it with my negativity.  Instead, I responded with, “OMG perfect!” It was my initial reaction and the correct response.

While I was trying to figure out a way to get to the city center, she was enjoying a glass of wine and for a moment uncertainty set in.  Perhaps this meant that Berlin was not the place for me.  Having this fatalistic view was fleeting and once I was speeding down the autobahn to Wedding (pronounced VED-ding) while signing Kraftwerk's “Autobahn” made any shred of fear, doubt, and confusion dissipate. It was 3 am and I could barely keep my eyes open, and then I looked outside of the cab.  The Berliner Fernsehturm (Berlin TV Tower) greeted me with its lights and statuesque pose against the pale moonlight. That's when it finally hit me, I was in Berlin.

Wir fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn

Vor uns liegt ein weites tal

Die sonne scheint mit glitzerstrahl

Die fahrbahn ist ein graues band

Weisse streifen, gruener rand

Jetzt schalten wir das radio an

Aus dem lautsprecher klingt es dann:

Wir fahr'n auf der Autobahn…

This, is why you travel.

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