5. Victoria Station

the train from Gatwick to Victoria Station
took about thirty minutes
would have been a long way to walk
especially with two suitcases, a carry-on bag and a purse

I peaked outside the station
the size of the city was overwhelming
how would I ever find the youth hostel circled in my book
the map was barely two inches square

someone handed me a flyer
directions to another youth hostel
it was affordable
a destination with clear directions starting on the subway

how hard could it be
I purchased a ticket
got on the underground train
and watched for my stop

4. Gatwick

well there I was in London
so I thought
I had picked up my bags
passed through customs
got a stamp in my passport
and walked out the glass doors of the Gatwick Airport

hmmm there was no city
I had sort of expected to just walk out
and be in London
went back in and found a place to sit down
the luggage was already heavy
I was exhausted

realization set in
I was completely alone
didn’t even have a way to call my dad
even if I did, what could he do
I was half a world away

went up to information to ask how to get to London
she mumbled something
it was clearly in English
I didn’t understand a word

excuse me
she repeated herself several times
frustrated, she pointed to the right
I understood the word train

I found my way to the train station
and bought a ticket to London

3. all my bags are packed and I’m ready to go

all the arrangements were made
passport, ticket, travel checks
it was all I could think about
my marked calendar was proof
that I was counting down the days

my dad was irritated
I didn’t have a hotel reserved
why should I reserve an expensive hotel
I had the book “Let’s Go Europe”
it had everything I needed
places to visit, eat and sleep

my grandmother had given me
luggage for my graduation
yellow Samsonite suitcases
I was so excited to use them
right, I would be backpacking across Europe
with yellow Samsonite suitcases

I had it all planned out
three days by myself in London
then take the train to Vienna
It played out pretty well in my head
It didn’t even cross my mind
that things could go any different

the John Denver song “leaving on a jet plane”
played over and over in my head
I wasn’t leaving anybody
but I had always dreamed that one day
I would wake up early one morning
to fly somewhere on a jet plane

I was about to make that dream come true

2. the idea

as I looked through her photo almums
I was amazed at all the places she had been
It was like looking at scenes from a movie
Rome, Amsterdam, Paris

she was home on winter break
a second grade teacher
an American international school in Vienna
she convinced me to visit her in the summer

we could travel together
there was a whole world out there to explore
I was curious
I had never stepped foot outside the states
Canada, but that didn’t really count

so that’s how the idea came to be
from looking at her pictures
from the realization that there was more out there
from the burning desire
to experience something new
from the realization that if I set my mind to it
I could actually make it happen

1. first flight

the couple next to me played gin
as her cigarette burned in the ashtray between us
it was my first time ever on a plane
a charter flight from
Minneapolis to London

the flight was exactly
as I imagined it would be
I wasn’t the least bit afraid
my parents and my baby sister saw me off

I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t
get to walk the tunnel into
the plane as I had seen so many others do
we boarded from the outside
so I had to climb the stairs
directly onto the plane

mom snapped a picture of
my sister and me just before I boarded
capturing the plane in the background
I had just celebrated my nineteenth birthday

for the next month I would be completely on my own
no rules, no curfew, and no schedules
I was free to explore life and to just be me