Finding myself in Europe

Before we left for our European backpacking adventure, I looked forward to meeting the new Kate.

The new Kate was a seasoned traveller, one who would shrug her bronzed shoulders when problems cropped up, scraping together her last few coins for beer instead of a hostel. Nothing would faze her. She would try everything. She would leap off the high dives, she would ignore the safety warnings, she would sleep in parks instead of hotels. I had this great romantic idea that TJ & I would land at Heathrow and my new personality would be waiting for me at the gate, her arms already adorned with friendship bracelets gifted from Spanish girls with pierced noses. I figured that once we got there, everything would fall into place, and new Kate would take over.

She probably wears more than one necklace at once, too.

She probably wears more than one necklace at once, too.

It turns out that personality transplants are not as easily obtained as I thought. After a few days in London, after we’d seen the changing of the guard (interminably dull) and Camden (completely fantastic), I slowly realised that the new bohemian Kate hadn’t shown up, and regular Kate was going to have to be in charge. We decided to get Eurail passes – giving us ten days of travel within two months – ostensibly because they were cheaper than booking individual journeys. Realistically, it meant I still didn’t have to do any real planning. Eurail passes were a buffer between me and committing to countries and dates. Even still, spending the money – money I’d literally saved for only this purpose – required actual self-counselling in my journal. I wrote, “plans are fun, you like plans, just because it is committing to money spend does not make it bad – you will be happier if you do this.”

Our passes would take a few days to arrive, and TJ said we’d go to Ireland in the meantime. I was so grateful to have someone else make decisions for me, so I agreed, and we took a train and a ferry to get there. When we arrived I swung from ecstatic joy over how gorgeous Galway was, through to terror that we would die on a Parisian street in a week.

The Cliffs of Moher, where the sky and the sea bleed together in a striking tableau, but more importantly The Princess Bride was filmed there.

The Cliffs of Moher, where the sky and the sea bleed together in a striking tableau, but more importantly The Princess Bride was filmed there.

I chewed my nails down thinking about how we only had accommodation booked for a limited amount of time. And every time I worried about this stuff, I felt guilty. I was obviously travelling “wrong”. The European Kate from my fantasies – the one who carried only a backpack held together with pins – didn’t worry about this stuff. She skinny-dipped and hitch-hiked and haggled with street vendors.

I’d confess my worries to TJ, who’d hug me and tell me that the worst thing that could happen would be that everything would be fine. We had enough money. We had three sets of parents between us, all of which would bail us out if we ended up in a Prague prostitution ring.

I often thought about my mother’s itineraries. Three weeks before I visited her in Australia for the first time she sent me the itinerary. She had planned out every day, often down to the hour. She’d scheduled relaxation time. She’d included web addresses of theme parks and malls, should I wish to do some research prior to attending. I yearned for her to send me one. I didn’t like that we were adrift in a continent with so many options, with no plan.

Back in New Zealand before we’d left, when people asked what our plans were, I took great delight in announcing we’d be travelling “like leaves on the wind”. It took me a week in Ireland to come to understand that leaves are often blown across roads in front of passing cars, or swept into plastic bags. During a school camp when I was nine, my love of being bossy rewarded with the title of “Bunk Leader”. I got to round up my friends and organise them into a cohesive group, and I loved it. My To Do lists are colour-coded and organised into sub-headings. I have a hierarchy of favourite pens. I am baffled as to how I ever desired being a leaf, how I ever thought I’d be happy sleeping in a park.

Look at those socks. There's no way this girl was ever going to grow up to be a hippy.

Look at those socks. There’s no way this girl was ever going to grow up to be a hippy.

For our final night in Ireland, TJ had splurged on a four-star hotel room in Dublin. His nudges and winks made it clear he had designs on a shared bath, but I saw the hotel stationery and the free wifi and leapt on it. After an hour I’d made a document outlining a plan. The fear of making a decision was outweighed by the happiness a plan would bring, and so I picked dates at random, depending on what I’d seen of the countries in movies.

This earned Salzburg three full days.

This earned Salzburg three full days.

The casual yin to my anxious yang, TJ said if the plan made me happy it was fine with him. So with his help, I booked our first week of accommodation. We planned trains and looked up which platform we’d depart from. And I felt all the stress drain from my body. The weight that spontaneity had been pressing on me was lifted.

After that, travel was so much better. And better still when I stopped worrying I was travelling ‘wrong’ and became happier with my inner planning nerd. Around our early-booked trains and accommodation we let the days fill in themselves, discovering that maybe impulsiveness didn’t feel so scary when there was a bed to come home to.

People say you travel to find yourself. Before we left I was sure I’d find a different version of me, a laissez-faire gal who would sleep in a stranger’s tent. She never showed up. And although my inner organised nerd felt like a burden at first, a stick-in-the-mud with her reference numbers and carefully filed train reservations, I came to love having her around. I like having plans. I am not a leaf. And it’s ok.