Coming Home — The Adventure Begins (And the time I Hitchhiked in France)
So Im back in the US of A for the time being (made it back just in time for America’s birthday because of how firmly patriotic I am. And Condor had a cheap flight. And I needed peanut butter again. But mostly the patriotic thing.) There is so much to write and so many lessons to share that my brain can hardly process everything. While I’m fully intending on writing you a lot of long-form posts on the art of solo world travel, I wanted to write a post that can at least try to convey some of the feelings and emotions that happen outside of your comfort zone – regardless of what country you may be in.
Rolf Potts has an absolutely fantastic book called Vagabonding, and I recommend it regardless of if you have any international travel in your future. Rolf has so many good quotes, but one that resonates with me now as I try to put this past month to words is “More often than not, you’ll discover that “adventure” is a decision after the fact—a way of deciphering an event or an experience that you can’t quite explain.”
The act of choosing to let new ideas and people into your life and looking at the world around you with a heightened sense of wonder is the thing that is most important. That is what leads to the real adventure. Being on the road shows you how little you need and how lucky you really are. It sets your priorities in order. It makes you adapt to change and think on your feet. It forces you to bond with people that you would usually ignore and to have conversations that will change the way you see your life. You learn those things on the road because you have no choice – it is how you survive. But you don’t have to cross an ocean to see how other people live and to do things that scare you and change you. It’s easier to ignore things that make us uncomfortable when we are at home, because our routine and responsibilities are waiting for us each day. Regardless of how inconvenient it may be, I want to stress to you the value of forcing yourself to have experiences that you can later call adventures.
Things don’t go according to plan when you travel. I was fortunate enough to make all of my transportation and arrive safely everywhere that I wanted to go, but things were still not what I expected. I hitchhiked, I went hungry, and I had a run in with the French police (more on all of that later.) But in all of these circumstances I learned.
I want to stress to you that every time something scared me a little or didn’t go how I had pictured, it resulted in something amazing. Every time I took an uncomfortable trip or was forced to change my plans, I had the best time. Every time I got lost I found the most beautiful places. Every hike and long journey produced the most amazing views. Every conversation I had when I wanted to be alone resulted in life long friends and an important realization that I have such a privileged and comfortable life compared to many people.
The best day on my trip was my second to last day in France when I took a journey up to Normandy to see the Tour de France. I set out knowing that there was a very real chance that I wasn’t going to make it to the Tour – I needed to get up to Saint Marie du Mont and the D-Day Beaches, but public transportation way out in the country is very scarce, and the whole area would be shut down for the tour. Neither the internet, nor the people working in my hostel seemed to have the answers I needed to make a definitive schedule for my day. The closest train station was in Carentan, so I figured I’d go there and figure it out as I went.
I arrived in the empty train station in the tiny town and asked the man at the desk how to get to Saint Marie du Mont. He laughed for a while and then suggested I walk. When he realized I wasn’t kidding, he gave me a the number for the closest cab service. The annoyed woman on the other end of the line told me my request was impossible because of the tour – I told her there had to be back roads left open and I wanted to try. She reluctantly sighed and sent me a cab. The cabbie dropped me off in Saint Marie du Mont a half hour later. This is what I saw:
Saint Marie du Mont was the first town in Normandy to be liberated during the D-Day invasion. The town had been overrun by Nazi’s – the church in the center square was used as a look out point. The French don’t forget – there are memorials to US soldiers all over the small town, and they are a lovely and welcoming group of people. The whole town was out to watch the tour – they all waved flags and cheered and had decorated the entire town in tiny bikes. It was the most perfect setting in the world to watch the Tour. There is no ATM or big grocery store in the town, just a creperie and a lot of great people. We watched the Tour and cheered together, and I was on cloud 9. I’ve wanted to watch the Tour in person since I first sat on the living room floor and watched it with my dad. This exceeded anything I had ever dreamed.
I had asked the cab driver if he would be abel to take me back to Carentan in time to catch my train to Paris. He agreed and promised to “rendezvous,” where he had dropped me off, and gave me his card. The time rolled around for me to leave, and the cab driver was no where to be found. I called the number on his card and the cab service but to no answer. I looked down at my dying phone and empty wallet. Hitchhiking was the only answer, and there was no time to talk myself out of it, so I set off down a long, winding road of farms (ironically, one of the prettiest roads I’v ever been on) with my thumb held in the air. Worse case scenario, I’d walk the two hours to the station and sleep on whatever train would take me closest to Paris, then figure it out in the morning. About 15-20 mins later, an old military jeep stopped along side me. The French couple asked me where I was going, and through my broken French and their broken English, we managed to get on the same page. they helped me into the trunk of the car and headed off to their home – they said if I waited they would have their sons give me a ride to Carentan.
We arrived at their house and they both went inside while I stood awkwardly next to the military jeep. The house was big and beautiful and the gardens were bright green and big. There were other, older military cars scattered around the yard.
A few minutes later, the husband emerged from the house carrying a big scrap book. He brought it over to me and pointed to a house on a military attack plan. He then pointed to his own house, and then at a picture of a Nazi general. he explained how the house had been taken over by the general when the Germans invaded France. He proceeded to take me through the scrapbook, showing me pictures of the cars in the yard being used by soldiers in black and white photos. He showed me pages of the scrapbook dedicated to US Major Richard Winters, and expressed to me his gratitude to the US soldiers. He showed me newspaper clippings from the war with old pictures of the square that I had been in that day. The book was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. I thanked him for showing me, and he called his sons over to take me to Carentan. They stalled the stick shift about 5 times during the trip, but I lived and made it to the station with 20 minutes to spare before the last train to Paris left. They excitedly yelled “Bon Voyage!!!” about 10 times and then drove off. I sat on the train and started out the window at the french Countryside and wondered if the rest of my life was gonna be a bummer after that amazing day.
In the end, what I know is this: The best things happen when you adapt to curveballs and let people and experiences into your life that teach you lessons you didn’t realize you needed to know. Change is a good thing. Making the best of difficult situations is a great skill. People are really worth taking the time to listen to. None of these things require a passport.