I was 19 years old and just finishing up my first year of college when I was handed an opportunity to do some volunteer work in Austria for the summer. I had never traveled outside of the United States. Too naive to understand what was in store for me, I signed up. I even convinced my friend Beth to go with me.
For almost two months, we worked in an 11th century castle called Schloss Klaus in Austria that served as a conference center/hotel. I was a maid and Beth worked in the kitchen. When our time at the schloss was up, we were set free for a month to go wherever we wanted. We mastered the train system and found our way throughout Austria, Italy, France, Spain, Holland, and Germany. We learned how to read maps written in different languages, we slept on the floors of trains, we didn’t shower for days at a time, we carried all of our belongings with us everywhere in our backpacks, and we’d show up in a city not knowing if we would be able to find a place to stay. It was glorious.
I came home a different person. I had toured the ruins of Pompeii and the Roman Forum. I had been to churches like Notre Dam and St. Peters Basilica. I had walked around inside buildings like the Duomo and the Pantheon. I had seen Michelangelo’s David, Pieta, and the Sistine Chapel. How can those things not change you? For the first time I realized that there was a big world out there that I knew nothing about. And I wanted to know more.
That summer was physically and emotionally challenging, but as a result I gained confidence and maturity. I came home with an intellectual curiosity that I had never had before. The world was now a bigger place. Much bigger. I wanted to learn everything I could about what I had seen. My life changed direction as I changed my major from nutrition to history, which took me down a path that would eventually lead me to teaching. And it all started with that summer backpacking Europe.
If you have ever wanted to backpack somewhere, I hope you make it happen! And if you have backpacked already, I’d love to hear about where you went and any stories you have from your trip!
My one regret is that I didn’t take more pictures. These are a few of the pictures that I could salvage from my (I kid you not) disposable film camera. For shame!!
Above: The view from our room at Schloss Klaus
Below: Just another train…
Above: Riding bikes in Holland
Below: Trying to figure out where to go!
Above: I can’t believe that this is my only Eiffel Tower picture.
Below: Austrian Trains!
*These pictures were scanned from film originals, so the quality is less than ideal.