By Geoff Dennis
Four years of nose-to-the-grindstone studying is a traumatic thing for any young person to go through. Many students encounter all of those familiar side effects from your favorite pharmaceutical ads: nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, and a lifetime of mental anguish. Luckily, there’s a tried-and-true remedy for educational fatigue syndrome, and it’s much more fun than an aspirin regimen.
For many recent college grads, a trip overseas is the perfect way to refresh the weary body and soul. “To travel is to live,” goes the purported Hans Christian Anderson quote. Really, it’s the universal need to “live” (in the metaphysical sense, not the death-avoidance one) that proves so appealing to energetic college grads with symptoms of the travel bug. There are many different strains of the bug, of course. Some people want to find enlightenment in a distant land. Others simply want to delay the inevitable transition into the workaday world. No matter the goal, there’s a solution waiting in a place far away from home.
Besides the pesky issue of financial limitations for a recent graduate, the process of planning is probably the biggest hurdle in a trip’s lifecycle. For my own post-graduation excursion, the first step was picking out a destination. I was lucky enough to have a family that had taken me to experience the semi-exotic, semi-familiar trappings of France during my formative years, and it was love at first sight. After that, the rest of Western Europe was like a dangling carrot. I hadn’t really entertained the thought of going anywhere else—Cancún’s beaches and flowing tequila don’t have much cultural appeal for me, and I’m not really the type to procure a VW bus and drive it till it runs out of gas in the desert somewhere.
So I’d chosen the continent, and it was now only a matter of researching and choosing specific destinations that would fit my general itinerary. My plan was to leave Seattle in mid-September and be back by the end of October, which would let me enjoy summerish weather while avoiding the height of tourist season. Using my newly college-educated brain, I deduced that higher latitudes would get colder earlier, and that lower ones would stay warmer longer. By combining that invaluable piece of information with my love of France and my yearning for mysterious Iberia, I had a rudimentary plan: fly into Paris and work my way south to the gorgeous climes of Lisbon. It was settled. I’d go to Europe and I’d go alone, intent on testing my mettle in the brutal boulevards of Paris and the vicious plazas of Seville.
As for the actual planning of specific destinations and activities, I decided to use a technique that had worked well for me up to this point—winging it. It would have been a bad idea to fly across the ocean without some idea of where to go and what to do, so I gathered a bunch of travel guidebooks and started furiously going through them. Pages flew as I jotted down all the places I wanted to explore, then chopped a bunch out, then penciled a map, then crumpled everything up and started all over again. By the time the day came for me to leave, I had a rough outline of my potential journey, a ten-day rail pass, and a spirit of adventure that I would never relinquish.
Everything went pretty well. That feeling of freedom was slightly hampered by the need to buy train reservations, book hostels, and stress about how all that would go together. A bit more planning probably would have been a good idea. But in the end, it was an incredible experience, and I came back utterly invigorated, fresh with new ideas and inspirations and memories of great people and boeuf bourguignon. Just what the doctor ordered.