COLUMN: Travel not for the faint of heart

Tessa Duvall

OSLO, Norway – Hours before, I had been frantically running through London Stansted Airport with my belt in one hand, holding my pants up with the other. Truth be told, I hadn’t run that hard in months, maybe even years, and I was in my winter coat with a heavy backpack bouncing painfully on my back with each step. I was trying my hardest to make it to a plane that would close its gate any second now, if it hadn’t already.

I was supposed to be beginning my long weekend journey to Munich, Germany, and Oslo, Norway, with a relatively quick train ride to the airport and plenty of time to go through security and leisurely walk to get to my Germany-bound plane.

Instead, my train broke down. I got to the airport only five minutes before my gate closed, and I had to throw away all of my toiletries in order to run to a plane that I may have already missed.

This was not what I planned.

And it wasn’t what my group planned either – I traveled to Stansted with four people, but only two got on the plane to Germany due to a hang-up at security about a potentially explosive laptop.

I stood panting at the gate, dripping sweat and trying to make sure I hadn’t lost anything in my half-mile long mad dash across the airport.

I had worked hard to coordinate every minute of this trip. I almost single-handedly planned this four-day, four-night journey, involving three flights, six train rides and two hotels. Each itinerary and boarding pass was printed off the night before I left and neatly stored in my backpack.

This was the first time I traveled extensively without my parents getting all of my paperwork together for me.

When I arrived in Munich, I knew three phrases in German: ja (yes), nien (no) and schnitzel. My friend had two German courses under her belt, but between the two of us, we were less than proficient.

Despite the language barrier, being in a foreign city at night, and being armed with only a map of the city’s train system, we made it across town to our hotel. It was at this time we realized what a convenience it is to know what the street signs say.

I was feeling newly independent and proud of everything I had done. My friend and I shared a celebratory fist bump as we congratulated ourselves.

The rest of my trip went exactly according to plan. Every activity, including a trip to see the Dachau concentration camp and a trip to watch the famous glockenspiel as it chimed, went exactly like I had hoped.

In Norway, I approached the locals confidently and asked, “Snakker du engelsk?” It sounds like gibberish to me, but to them, it was the plea of an American girl who probably needed directions, preferably in English.

Previously, I may have found this task too intimidating, but after pushing myself to the limit multiple times in the course of the past few days, it was something I did with ease.

I ventured out into the ice-covered Oslo – almost busting my butt in the process – and steered away from tourist areas. I spoke the language with the locals, and I experienced the most of what Oslo had to offer in the little time I had.

To me, a traveler stretches their limits. On the other hand, a tourist sticks near airports and train stations, buys a souvenir to prove they’ve been there, done that and calls it a day.

I would never be a tourist again, I told myself, especially not after this weekend.

In that weekend, I learned real friendships grow stronger with obstacles and the stresses of hectic travel. I learned independence takes time to develop, but in the right situation, you will grow exponentially, just like your German vocabulary.