Friday, October 18, 2019

Backpacking Europe Part 1: Intro and NYC

We planned and took the trip of our lives this summer! It was a huge bucket list trip with a lot of other smaller things checked off the life goals list as well. And over a month later from returning home, I have finally gotten my thoughts, notes, and photos collected somewhat enough to be able to write about it...

This magical trip took us to New York City and then across the pond at the end of this past summer with some of our best friends. Landon and I met Paige and Austin last year in Reno and quickly bonded with our Southern accents in Nevada. They are also from Alabama, and we enjoy doing a lot of the same things, so it was super cool to see how the Lord brought us together--and now we have friends for life.

And just for the record, before you embark on a trip like this, choose your travel partners wisely! Ha I honestly think that can make or break your trip and your overall experience. When you live together for a month, you all see the best and worst of each other. We each had our moments (OK, maybe just I did? Sorry, guys.), but we all enjoy going at about the same pace, we choose to spend our time and money in similar ways, and we are all always down for multiple coffee breaks a day (very important). We enjoy similar tastes in things, we enjoy laughing together, being laid back/going with the flow/flexible, and honestly just having a good and fun time together...which is what it is really all about. 

Traveling with people with very different energy levels or with clashing personality styles or who are simply Negative Nancy's that complain all the time is no bueno. Our differences were just enough to perfectly complement and help each other grow when we were way outside our comfort zones rather than causing conflict or disunity among the group, which could easily ruin a trip. On a trip this long, multiple things will always go wrong, and you have to be able to not only cope with it, but to also figure it out...together. I'm speaking for the group when I say this, but I don't think any of us could have survived the trip by ourselves, based on logistics alone. Again, as some of my most important advice, choose wisely! We honestly couldn't have picked better. :)

A few facts about our entire trip:

4 friends
15ish flights (varying itineraries to/from NYC)
5 high-speed trains
2 rent cars
16 apartments
5 currencies
6 or 7 metro systems
4 time zones
9 languages
18ish cities
11 foreign countries (including Vatican City)

Whew! It was a LOT, as you can see, and by the end of the trip we were definitely bordering on exhaustion...but I don't think we would have changed it for anything. There's a fine line between planning/preparing and being spontaneous and letting things happen as they may. And honestly, I think we balanced that perfectly! We also built in some time for rest to keep up with the fast pace of the trip. OK, we could have probably used a little more (some of the early flight times were brutal...hello, 2am wake up call for a 5:30 flight from Rome to Split). But we had several slower and "chill" days that were either built in to the itinerary or we just skipped out on some plans, and we also knew we would have plenty of time to crash when we got back home. :)

We planned this entire trip ourselves. It was exactly what we envisioned and to see it unfold each day was pretty satisfying. You can never plan ahead for all the small things, but the big picture turned out beautifully. I will never take for granted that we were able to manifest this trip into existence. I will try to address questions I got, apps and resources we used, and tips and tricks along the way...but always ask me anything you want to know in particular.

All of that said, here's the first stop of our trip: New York City!

Landon and I were originating in Alaska, and Paige and Austin on the East Coast in South Carolina, so we needed a meeting point stateside that wasn't out of the way. We found cheap flights from JFK to Heathrow that worked well with our itinerary, and none of the group had been to the Big Apple except a couple of days pregaming there just made sense for us. It actually helped us tremendously to "get our feet wet" while still in the USA as we were perfecting our packing routines, adjusting to metro life (it's truly a thing when you live on a remote island), and just ironing out simple logistics of traveling together and getting into our groove. We each traveled with only one backpack and one small day bag. It was nice to figure out some things especially before we had a language barrier.

Let's go! KTN--SEA--ATL--LGA. It was an 18.5 hour journey...because life in Ketchikan.

After meeting up at LaGuardia (we hadn't seen each other in far too long at this point), we went to our first apartment which was in the Bronx then took the subway into Manhattan. After seeing Times Square, we all enjoyed a sushi dinner together then us girls went our separate way.

Reunited!! Girls night called for Wicked on Broadway. Absolutely phenomenal.

The next day, we took the subway back into Manhattan. We walked past the Met and then along the side of Central Park. After having brunch in the UES, we went back to the Bronx because we had tickets to the NYY game. Seeing Yankee Stadium in person was pretty awesome.

Concrete jungle where dreams are made ;)

After making our way back to Manhattan, we ventured to the top of the Empire State Building. If you have never been to NYC and want to do the touristy highlights, I would say to choose between this and Top of the Rock. I did both in 2013, and honestly that is not worth your time and money. They are similar pricing. Top of the Rock is probably less crowded, but Empire State of course more "classic" New York.

We stopped for coffee (a constant theme of the entire trip) then made our way to Grand Central Station and enjoyed some baked goods from Magnolia.

This symbol of old Manhattan was almost destroyed in the 70s. It was Jackie Kennedy Onassis who helped save and preserve it as a landmark.

We took the subway to Chinatown and had dinner in Little Italy before making our way home and calling it a night.

Day 3 started out with a hiccup! It's funny to look back on now, but we were so stressed in the moment. We had to check out of our apartment and couldn't check into our next one in Queens (closer to JFK for departure to London) until way later in the day. We had timed reservations to take the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands with no idea what we were going to do with our big backpacks. We booked a luggage storage only to figure out it was way out of the way, and longer story short, we couldn't be there when it opened and still make it on the ferry in time. We thankfully found another luggage service in Lower Manhattan at a health food store of all places. Sketchy? Maybe, but sometimes you just have to go with whatever works. We dropped our bags off and made it in time to see Lady Liberty.

We walked around the island and then around Ellis Island Museum as well.

We ate lunch at a random seafood place because it was convenient and short wait. Then we made our way over to Ground Zero and the 9/11 Museum. Um, I don't really have words for the museum. So chilling, but I think every American should have this experience.

I didn't even understand what the World Trade Center was at the time, but I will never forget that day in Mrs. Hutchinson's 4th grade classroom.

We then picked our luggage back up, took the subway to Brooklyn, gave up trying to figure out and find our train connection near the Barclays Center (see...get your feet wet), so we took an Uber the rest of the way to our new apartment in Jamaica, Queens. By this point we had such an amazing trip already that I think we had to keep pinching ourselves that the best part of our trip hadn't even started yet.

The next morning we slept in as it was our last chance to do so for a while. We made a run to the UPS store because I realized there were a few things in my backpack taking up space that I just didn't need and were adding extra weight. So I shipped a box to my dad in Muscle Shoals, AL before we left the country. I can't even remember what it all it was now except for an iPad, a book, and an extra pair of shorts. Nothing I missed. I could have probably shed a little more for real. :)

London bound! 

We got to JFK super early because we had nothing else we really wanted to do and took advantage of all the extra time in the Delta lounge, which has a Sky Deck there and it was nice to enjoy some fresh air even though we were in the airport. 

Now, this could probably make an entire post in itself, but if you have an international flight that is overnight (or domestic for that matter...we have had a couple of red-eyes to the East Coast recently where this worked for me)… you should get your in-flight routine down and have a schedule for yourself. Both times I have been to Europe now I didn't have to fight jetlag. The biggest thing for me is that as soon as I board my flight, I start to adjust myself to the local time at my destination. I go ahead and manually change my clock.

For an overnight flight from New York to London, this meant that after they served dinner, I washed my face, brushed my teeth, took a sleep aid, and made myself go to sleep. Also apply eye mask and fuzzy socks, because priorities. ;) This is a good time to apply a hydrating facial mask as recycled cabin air definitely dries you out. I use a firming mask from Epionce which thankfully goes on clear. When they served breakfast at the end of the flight, I ate, freshened up, brushed my teeth again, and I was good to go. With an afternoon coffee, I was able to stay awake all day until bedtime that night in London...effectively adjusting myself to the new time zone. Maybe it was part adrenaline, because I had just come from working night shift in Alaska time zone a few days before. So honestly my brain and body didn't know what the heck was going on. But it worked, and it was definitely part self-discipline...and I didn't have to spend the first few days of my trip adjusting and fighting sleep. Do what works for you, but this has been instrumental for me.

So that was New York for us! 

We arrived at Heathrow and hit the ground running for a whirlwind of a month. London will be on the next post.

This little blog series will take several posts, but I hope you enjoy it, are inspired by it, and then take a trip for yourself to wherever your bucket list may want to take you! 

I will say more at the end of the posts, but a note: This life is so much more than I ever dreamed of and is beyond what I ever thought was accessible to me. I am forever grateful to my husband, my best travel partner, for always catching flights and going after our dreams with me! It's a gift that I don't deserve. To Landon, and Paige and Austin: thank you for making this dream a reality. I don't take lightly the honor of having made this trip with you guys. So much love.

Goals and dreams are important, but it's following through on them and putting forth the sacrifices to make them actually happen that means you are living life instead of letting it live you. Being complacent with life is stupid, and I can say that because I used to learn from me.  As I have said before..."someday" is not a day of the week. Make it happen.


Stay tuned for the rest of the series coming up soon. :)

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