Silly American

My bff in NYC this summer is Yvonne, an award-winning journalist from Switzerland with a blazing mane of curls. She decided to take a few months to travel in America, and came to New York without much of a plan. We met through Airbnb—she stayed in my apartment for a few nights before moving to her permanent sublet down the street. We instantly hit it off, and have been inseparable buddies even since, living a summer of “solo yolo” in the city.

The luxury apartment building Yvonne ended up in was much nicer than my grimy Alphabet City walk-up. I’m not picky—I feel blessed I had a relatively affordable apartment in the East Village with an accessible roof, my own room and a bathroom with a door (New York really teaches you how low you’re willing adjust the bar on your standard of living).

Yvonne’s rooftop however, is in a league of its own.

skyline nyc

Perched 14 stories up on the corner of 7th and Avenue B, this rooftop towers above the wash of four- and six-floor buildings in the area. The finished patio has a party-sized wooden picnic table (we’ve crashed many birthday/office/guacamole parties), lounge chairs, and the most incredible view of the city I’ve seen from lower Manhattan.

During our frequent rooftop talks, we chat about everything from our careers (and the future of journalism), to relationships (why is everyone getting married?), to the importance of using your 20s to figure it all out. Something we’ve been discussing the whole time is travel—how to do it, where to go, and why you have to.

We both agree traveling is absolutely essential for growth/personal discovery/seeing how others live/your soul. Both of us took a huge leap of faith to put our careers on brief pauses so we could take off to a foreign country without a plan. We’re both leaving behind a boy, and not sure what the next steps will be after we return. Both Yvonne and I are curious, passionate, whip smart, and bold enough to make big moves.

Where we differ though, is in what to pack.

Before I booked myself on a Birthright trip a week ago, I didn’t own much travel gear. Through the power of Amazon Prime, I’ve acquired a hefty supply of things that travel blogs told me would be necessary: a sink stopper, a quick-dry towel, a plug adapter, packing cubes, an eye mask, a padlock, a money belt, a toiletry bag, a spork.

10313498_10202717374028924_7148503805386865049_nYvonne’s reply whenever I tell her about a new travel gadget I bought?

“Silly American.”

She travels light. For her three-month trip to the USA, she brought a few of her favorite outfits (literally, just a handful of light dresses, a romper, and one pair of pants), her laptop, and little else. She bought bathroom supplies here, a pair of sandals when her heels broke, and has picked up a few shirts along the way. A true minimalist, she still somehow manages to look like she always belongs on the runway!

While I aspire to pack like Yvonne, the Girl Scout in me wants to be prepared. I’d rather have a padlock than have my backpack stolen at a hostel. I’ll pay for a money belt now if it keeps pickpockets away from my credit card. I’d rather have the Pepto Bismol packed and ready to go, instead of frantically looking for a pharmacy in Portugal.

I’ve done one trial run pack, and my backpack is already quite full without adding my shoes, toiletries and technology. Having a 40L pack is going to be a challenge for me, a chronic overpacker, but I’m hoping this trip as a whole will teach me that I can get by with a lot less stuff than I think.

Besides, hundreds of millions of Europeans survive with what they can buy in their own countries. I think I’ll be okay.

To plan or not to plan?

There is only one thing I know for sure about my upcoming trip: I leave on September 1.

Beyond that, I have nothing planned. 

No next flight, no hostels booked, no idea what happens after I leave the rest of my Birthright group at the airport.

For all I know, I could get on a flight to Berlin, or Budapest, or Amsterdam, or Dublin.

Right now, I’m leaving everything up to chance and how I feel in the moment.

What if I make a new best friend on my trip who wants to camp on a beach in Tel Aviv? What if inspiration strikes at the airport and I decide to jet to Warsaw? What if I find a $75 flight to Rome?

After reading countless guidebooks and travel blogs, I’m confident in my decision to travel alone. Living in major cities has given me enough street smarts and confidence to deal with most situations. I also want the freedom to chose what cities and attractions I visit, when I want to wake up, and how to spend my time.

I have a long list of places I want to visit over the next three months, including but not limited to:

  • Paris
  • Amsterdam
  • Brussels
  • Zurich
  • Vienna
  • Rome
  • Budapest
  • Prague
  • Hamburg
  • Munich
  • Berlin
  • Cologne
  • Lisbon
  • Porto
  • Barcelona
  • Seville
  • Greece
  • Croatia
  • Ireland

…but I know I probably won’t make it to all of them.