NEW YORK, USA
The Journey Begins
Before I start my story, I will quickly apologize for this all being written in retrospect. One of the goals I hoped to accomplish on this trip was to free myself from the obligation to log and create from everything that happened, because truly for the last 7 years of my life that was how I experienced everything; through a lens and an agenda to create a story. So this trip was about putting down the glass and using my eyes and ears just for me, no barriers between myself and the events before me. That being said, I did take pictures along the way, but far less than I would have normally and almost none of myself except at special moments. As I recount the trip, I will use excerpts from my personal travel journal so you can peek into my mind at that moment.
December 29th, 2014
9:00 AM EST
Just outside Baltimore, Maryland, USA
The reality never hit me until the moment those bus doors closed. It seems a cliche, but it’s true. Everything up until that point, 9 months of planning, those were all imagined scenarios. This was now real, this was happening. My 46 litre teal Osprey pack, stuffed to the seams with the only personal effects I would have for the next 5 weeks, was now locked in the cargo hold of the double-decker MegaBus. My Dad was there, waving at me from the parking lot as the bus pulled out. He’d hate for me to tell but I saw the tears in his eyes. That almost killed me. That right there was the scariest thing I had to face. Because no matter how much I believed in myself and was excited for the things ahead, I knew if anything went wrong (like horrible thriller movie wrong) it would be devastating to my family. These thoughts went pouring through my mind and my heart began to race. I had been so outspoken about my confidence in traveling, how I was so sure that traveling alone as a young woman shouldn’t be seen as a deathtrap but rather as an exciting opportunity. I had many an argument with my Dad to this effect but now, watching him get smaller in the bus window, those fears that he had voiced became paramount in my own mind. Now, for my readers who have traveled themselves, you know how silly this may seem. It was 5 weeks traveling about some of the most modern and developed cities in the world, the odds of anything catastrophic happening are truly very slim. But in that moment, I was scared. And that was a very foreign feeling to me. I plugged my headphones in and began to rally. As the music played, the fear slowly faded and the excitement came back. And then the text chime cut through the music.
Shit. Now the emotions were a tiny bit of fear and a bit more frustration. This was already a 9:00 PM flight. A delay meant more time I’d have to kill either in NYC or at the airport. Since I was only staying for the afternoon and then catching my flight I didn’t have a place to stay in the city, so I prepared myself for a very long day.
New York, New York, USA
Ok, so I didn’t consider being dropped off in Midtown Manhattan on a Monday at lunch might be a bit disorienting given my current state of nerves. Also, once I strapped on my pack, I realized my anonymity completely vanished. I was now a…*shudder*…tourist. Easily identifiable and just as easily disdained. Whenever I’d traveled before, I never bore such an obvious mark as my pack, often traveling extremely light in large handbags or subtle backpacks or day bags. This bag felt a bit like a scarlet letter, making me an outsider. And at this point, I’m still in my home country. What the hell was it going to be like once I stepped off the plane? A rumble in my stomach quickly brought me back to reality as I realized I hadn’t brought any snacks on the bus, had forgotten to eat breakfast and needed food, like, NOW. I figured, I looked like a tourist, I might as well eat like one. McDonalds. It was a welcome opportunity to get my blood sugar back up and at least gave me a chance to adjust my pack and plan my day. I checked my phone again and found another cheerful message informing me that my flight is delayed until 1:30 AM.
So now I knew I had time to kill. And I decided to embrace my outsider-ness and take advantage of being a tourist in the great city of New York. So I headed straight for one of the more controversial “tourist attractions”; Freedom Tower, but still referred to by many who visit it as Ground Zero.
Careful to take my photographs to the side of the flow of traffic, I was amazed by how beautiful the almost-finished tower was. I had never personally set foot on a Manhattan in which the Twin Towers still stood, but seeing this answer to that tragedy was quite moving.
Soon I began to wander about lower Manhattan, wondering what to do next. Then it struck me. The Brooklyn Bridge. I could walk across it. How awesome! So I quickly mapped out a route and beelined for it.
The first step was exhilarating. I was starting to feel how I expected to feel embarking on this adventure. I was physically doing the things I had always heard stories of people doing. My own two feet were walking paths that had before only existed in photographs and my imagination. I had no idea what adventures were ahead of me after this, but for now, being on that bridge felt like a grand adventure in and of itself.
Dear God I look like a dorky tourist, who let me leave the house with those sunglasses? But I was thrilled. Now, see that bicyclist way over my left shoulder? And see that pedestrian lane marked clearly over my right? You will then notice I am standing squarely in the center of the bike lane. Anyone who has ever stepped foot in a bike lane in New York can anticipate what happens next. The moment I took this shameful selfie I put my phone down, turned around, and instantly felt the impact of a bike handlebar squarely on my rib. Thankfully nothing was hurt but my pride as I choked out a “Sorry” and walked away from the frustrated biker.
It’s a beautiful bridge. Still my favorite in the city. So now I’ve crossed the bridge and am standing in Brooklyn. Yet again, the rumble in the stomach demands attention so I pull out the trusty smartphone and look for cheap food nearby. I see a Five Guys close by and hurry over. My food choices obviously leaned towards the familiar, which is very unusual for me, but I think given how out of my element I was feeling with everything else, these chain restaurants gave me a sense of stability. I knew what to expect, how to act, and what it would taste like. I settled down into my little hamburger with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, jalapenos and A1 (the best, I don’t care what you think) and checked on my flight status. It was still estimating 1:30 AM so now I was at a crossroads. It was about 6 PM and I could think of little else I wanted to do while lugging around my pack, so I figured the best course of action was to begin the journey out to the airport and give myself plenty of stress-free time getting through TSA and then maybe grab a nap at the terminal.
As soon as I arrive at JFK, I check the flight board and am greeted with this lovely sight.
A long day was clearly a severe understatement. Somewhat disheartened I head towards the ticket counter to get my boarding pass. I hand the flight attendant my bag and my passport and he clicks away. Then keeps clicking. And keeps clicking, his face getting a bit puzzled. “What’s your confirmation number?” he asks. I recite it to him, he types carefully and I see a look of relief and then bewilderment cross his face. He looks up at me “Is this your first trip out?” he asks. “Yes..” I hesitantly respond. “Ah..” he pauses “You know your passport is wrong right?”.
My blood turned to ice. “What?” I stammered. “It’s misspelled, two of the letters are in the wrong order” He hands me my passport over the counter and I stare at it in disbelief. Sure enough, in my hurry to obtain it at the passport office, I failed to notice a tiny spelling mistake in the middle of my very long last name. I’m speechless. Noticing the discussion, another flight attendant walks over behind the man at the computer and asks whats going on. He explains it to her and I hand her my passport. She looks at it and at the reservation and chuckles slightly. “That name is so long no one will ever notice” She throws the man a knowing glance and he laughs a bit as well and hits a key on the keyboard. My boarding pass comes tumbling out of the printer and he signs off on it. I can’t believe it. I thank them profusely for their help and clutch both my passport and my boarding pass, along with my small tote bag that I extracted necessary items from my larger pack into so I could breeze through TSA quicker. I approach the TSA agent in the line and try to remain as calm as possible. He gestures for me to approach and I hand him the passport and boarding pass. He ponders them only a second or two, then checks it off. Relief washes over me.
Around 8PM EST
John F. Kennedy Airport International Terminal
New York, New York, USA
Nothing will ever soothe my soul like Ramen. So stumbling upon an Asian fusion restaurant in the international terminal at JFK was a lifesaver. I put on my best “I’m traveling on an important assignment” swagger and got myself a glass of wine and a huge bowl of spicy ramen as a toast to problems put behind me and many adventures to come. Now I’m practically giddy. In only hours, I will be stepping foot onto the first mass of land I’ve ever touched outside of my countries boarders. I will cross the Atlantic ocean, the physical barrier between me and the unknown. The warm soup and the wine flush my cheeks and warm my bones. I’m so ready.
10:30 PM EST
Morale is fading. Other passengers have staggered in, and quickly begin to resign themselves to the long night ahead. I’m too anxious to sleep, flicking through episodes of shows on Netflix. One family returning to Ireland from a holiday in the U.S. shows no shame in settling into their temporary lodging.
Bear in mind, I was already in my seat several hours before they arrived. They seemed very unaware of any other persons around them. It gave me a good laugh in the midst of the monotony.
December 30th, 2014
I’m messaging night-owl friends to keep myself entertained. Netflix has lost it’s charm.
I remember packing at this time last night….
I see a flight attendant near the desk….we’ve got to be getting close. Holy shit I’ve been awake for 20 hours already!
“Good morning passengers, so sorry about your delays tonight. We would like to begin boarding for Aer Lingus Flight AL108 to Dublin, Ireland at this time”
This is real. This is really happening. I struggle to my feet and hastily throw my travel pillow back in my tote and yank my phone charger off the wall socket. I shuffle into line with the other bleary-eyed hold outs and soon am on the plane. And then I’m in my seat. My own cross-Atlantic airplane seat. That I paid for with money I diligently saved. It even has the little video screen I saw in the pictures. If I wasn’t so exhausted I’d be bouncing up and down. But my body is already sinking into my seat like my bones are made of lead. I begin to poke at the video screen. And that’s when I see it.
(For journalistic integrity purposes, these photos were taken on the flight back)
Holy-mother-of-GOD. THATS MY NAME! That is my name, staring at me from the video screen that I saw in the pictures of the airplane that I’ve been dreaming of getting on for 9 months, that I paid for the seat on with the money I saved from working on that show. THAT IS MY NAME. My life has just entered some inception realm surreal-ness. I’m grinning like a chimp and peeking over the seats in front of me like Kilroy to see if anyone else is watching the show. When I settle back down, all the fear from earlier is gone. I’m filled with gratitude for the people who have supported me to this point, given me opportunities to reach higher and higher with each passing day, month, and year. I’m happy, proud that I didn’t quit when things got hard in life and in work. And all that has culminated in this moment, when I’m sitting on a plane, about to cross the Atlantic ocean and embark on this brand new adventure.
And with that thought, I pass out, drooling into my travel pillow all the way across the Atlantic.
Be sure to subscribe to see the rest of the story! This trip will cover Ireland, Scotland, England, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and France! Thanks for reading! Next Up: Ireland: New Year, New Country