A brief stop in Paris at the end of December had me reminiscing about my first trip to the city in October 2001. It was also my first bit of traveling experience as a newly minted European resident. The trip - consisting of Amsterdam-Paris-Rome -Amsterdam by train - was short, but the memory has burned itself into my brain along with the travel lessons it taught me.
Lesson number one: Choose your travel companions wisely. My travel companions? Three American exchange students, female. Two I never spoke to again after we returned; one, I exchanged pleasantries with for the rest of the semester because I was afraid that if I didn't, she would kick my ass. Why? Just imagine five days of bitchy, snide comments being thrust in your direction at least once every hour. Just imagine being a scared 23-year-old who took it because she was dependent, being too fearful to take on the French - and eventually the Italians - alone. I shudder at the memory of those haughty hours ticking by.
Lesson number two: Don't pretend to be a European backpacker if you're not. I bought my first "big backpack" for that trip, thinking I would look so cool hauling that thing around. Little did I know that it is a really bad idea to bring three textbooks along for the ride. My back is still complaining about the lashing it took. Along with the backpacker mentality comes a tolerance for overnight train travel that I do not have. After two nights spent in a sleeper car with five other people (thankfully not my travel companions, anyway), my muscles were aching, I was exhausted from lack of sleep and felt distinctively unshowered.
Lesson number three relates to lesson number one, and is the most important travel lesson of all: Don't let crappy companions ruin your trip. I'm pleased to report that on the last day of that infamous experience, with my heart pounding I informed the girls that I was going to explore Rome on my own. Their jaws dropped and they provided a grand exit, set on ignoring my independence. I spent that day strolling around blue-skied Rome with a huge grin on my face, scared to death but realizing that yes, I could be alone and survive.
Just for that last day, the trip was worth it. But I haven't taken an overnight train since.