During a deployment to South America where, aside from a few memorable exceptions, time blurred together into a monotonous groundhog day, I came up with the idea to backpack across Europe. It’s the type of trip you always hear about others taking, whether in books or film, but something the average person can always talk themselves out of doing. I vowed not to be one of those people, and instead started to plan a trip that would see me arrive before Christmas, stay through New Years, and have me leave after my 21st birthday, the entire event becoming a massive gift to myself.
Over the next seven months, I prepared for the trip. I bought gear, mapped routes, found events and tours, made reservations, and brushed up on my French. By the time December arrived and I had started packing, I was certain that my only worry would be how best to enjoy myself.
When I had booked my airfare, I had noticed both how expensive it was to fly to Europe from Oklahoma City and that it included a layover in my hometown of Charlotte, NC. I instead chose to book direct from Charlotte, which gave me the benefits of a non-stop flight at a cheaper cost, and a chance to return home and visit my parents, who I hadn’t seen in over a year. Now, with my things in the trunk of my car, I set out on the 1,100 mile drive home.
16 hours later, I pulled into my parent’s driveway. We greeted each other in the typical way before I went to bed, having had a long day of driving. The next morning, shortly after breakfast, they presented me my Christmas gift, a Nikon I had helped them pick out earlier, the D70s. I thanked them, and spent the rest of day learning my new camera in various spots around the city, shooting everything from landmarks, waterfalls, Christmas decor, and even the small airport where I learned to fly.
The following day, they drove me to the airport where I checked in for my flight. Or rather, attempted to check in. The agent at the ticket counter couldn’t find my reservation and, after looking at the printout I handed her, told me the reservation was for a flight two days prior. I stared at her, dumbfounded. How could I have missed my flight by two whole days?
Luckily my parents had stayed behind, wanting to wait until I made it through security before leaving, and together we returned home. My mind churned along the drive back, attempting to come up with some way of salvaging my trip.
I called Orbitz later that night, the travel company I had booked my flight through, thinking I might talk someone into a refund or a discount on a new fare. A woman answered, her accent marking her as European. I explained my situation, and heard her typing through the low-fidelity of the phone line. Suddenly, she burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry sir,” she started saying, “I don’t mean to laugh, but I have just found you an unbelievable deal.”
Somehow, she had found another round trip fare that, at $400, was slightly more than half of what I had paid for my first set of tickets. The only catch was that the flight wouldn’t depart for nearly a week, causing me to miss out on events in both Switzerland and Italy, to include a Christmas Mass given by Pope Benedict XVI. Still, something was better than nothing, so I told her to book it.
I hung up the phone, and went downstairs to tell my parents that I’d be spending Christmas with them. There are worse ways of spending the holidays, after all.