When “home away from home” becomes too literal

Story and photo by Ana Varela Contributor

 “Hey you! Yeah, you, with the funny face and that look in your eye like you want to travel the world. Yeah, that’s right, look over here. Let me tell you how you — yes YOU — funny face,  can travel anywhere in the world. You like Europe? Oh yeah, that sounds good, doesn’t it? Alright, well in exchange for your first born...no? Okay okay, how about your second...fine! For only $5000 you can visit Spain, Italy, Greece....” 

Often, all it takes is for someone to just mention a place that you’ve never been to before in such an evocative way that gets you to sign up without looking into better options. Sometimes that works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. What I’m saying is, I agreed to pay for a trip that I hadn’t exactly thought through.

This is the story about how my life got flipped turned upside down because I spent too much for too few days with too many people. This is also the story about how you can avoid shooting yourself in the foot as directly as I did: by not doing the group trip.

In Europe, the bigger the group, the more pain in the ass it is to do everything that YOU wanted to do. You wanted to spend a half hour staring up at Michelangelo’s David in Florence? Too bad; the group and its extremely expensive tour guide is moving onto another room. You wanted to walk alone through the Venice canals? Sorry, you have to stay with your subgroup. I mean, have you seen European streets? You can’t even fit three people across most of them, let alone a group of thirty!

That wasn’t my idea of getting to know a city, so yes, maybe I strayed a few times from the group and got lost, and yes, maybe I cried a little bit inside a castle surrounded by priceless luxuries because I was thinking about how much poorer I was going to be after the trip. I wanted to take my time. I wanted to go out with locals, take a flamenco class in Spain, and have time to learn to love Ouzo, a Greek drink that in your first sip tastes like licorice ass.

Don’t get me wrong, my interpreter of words; the trip, besides leaving me on the streets, was stunning. I don’t want to dissuade you from going to Europe. The countries and cities I visited were as beautiful as “beautiful” sounds in other languages: Bonito! Molto Bello! ómorfi! Everything— people, buildings, museums, and plazas , was treated with the loving care of an artist’s touch. The old and the new thrived together. The food was hand-picked from fields far above the clouds. The music playing at every corner resonated into balconies and ears around the cities.

But the tourists?! Damn those tourists for being everywhere—touching everything, speaking loudly in spiritual temples, using harsh flashes on delicate fresco.... Plus, I was in only a medium-sized group of about thirty of the worst kinds of tourists: Americans. Go to Europe, they said! It’ll be fun, they said! I think it would have been worthwhile to mention there how I went to Europe only to be surrounded by more Americans.

Don’t do the group trip, but don’t let yourself make excuses for not traveling. Go on an adventure—wake up early (to avoid hordes of souvenir sucking tourists) and dive through historical sights surrounded by new languages, new foods, new people all around buildings older than your mom! Go out into the world, my child, and do not pay someone else to organize that trip for you. Buy your flight and stay in cities for as cheap as free, and you should; that way, you get to really know Europe.

My final advice: Don’t do the group trip.  Don’t do the group trip in the missionary position, don’t do the group trip standing up, just don’t do it, okay, promise? Okay, now everybody take some passports.


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