That Time I Got Stuck in Europe

Mother Nature f’d with our plans, laughing at our itinerary.

Years ago, my friend and in embarked on our rite-of-passage trip in University: we set off to Europe for a month. While we didn’t have backpacks loaded with a guidebook and only a few pairs of pants (backpacks so are not my thing), we stayed in off-the-beaten-path accommodations like quaint B&Bs, an apartment before apartment rentals were cool, silly hotels, friend’s couches, and of course, a couple of hostels.

We were excited and bright-eyed like two young 20-somethings were meant to be. We had travelled before, mainly on school trips, myself a little more versed in the travel world than my friend. I had never gone for a month of travel, and I was excited to just go out there and see what the world had to offer. That feeling of excitement, of finding yourself and the world in front of you…I don’t know if I could ever beat that feeling, I don’t think I could ever re-create it. It’s something that goes hand-in-hand with being young and naive. New experiences may make me feel giddy today, but there isn’t that sense of wonder, that feeling of absolute freedom you have when you’re young and travelling for the first time.

We had booked our accommodations in advance, taking care to find the perfect places for each stay. In Scotland, it was a cute B&B just out of the busyness of downtown. In Paris, an apartment tucked away a tiny cobbled street that was near a market. In Zurich, it was a silly hotel with a duck lamp, the room made up of green and pinks, and Toblerones on our pillows. Switzerland, being expensive as all hell, was one of our shortest destinations. We were happy to check out what the country had to offer, giggling like children as we visited Mount Titlis (pronounced just the way you think it is), stumbling upon a Sechseläuten festival. We had our fun, then it was time to head off to England, where we would spend a week in the countryside and a week in London, exploring everything in a language we understood.

Mother Nature had other plans for us. As we were partying in a Zurich nightclub, paying far too much for drinks, Eyjafjallajökul was rumbling. When the volcano in Iceland erupted it shut down air travel all across Europe. We were stuck, and stuck in the most expensive city we had visited so far. We secured another two nights in our hotel, thinking we would be able to leave for the rest of our adventures. How could a volcano so far away be affecting us here?

E-mails were sent to parents, letting them know of our travel plan changes. Extra money was deposited onto my credit card, a few thousand as just-in-case money if we couldn’t get home for weeks, if we had to change our entire travel plans. Inquiries into cruise ships coming home to Canada, or at the very least, the States, were made. We weren’t sure what the hell was going on, and a visit to the airport after hopes that air travel could resume, only to see that every single flight had been cancelled, gave us an eerie feeling.

Knowing that we couldn’t spend more of our trip in Zurich, that we would run out of money faster than we anticipated, we hiked it home to our friend’s parent’s house in Germany. There, we sought refuge in a free place to stay, and some more time to explore the city and surrounding area of Bonn. Our friend wondered why we would stay somewhere we already had been when we could use the extra time to see more places. A quick website check and visit to the train station told us that no one would be going anywhere in an orderly fashion. The station was packed with people, all trying to get home, all running for the train as flights were cancelled. It was chaotic, the panic palpable in the air. It was only cancelled flights, but they were most likely missed birthdays, anniversaries, job interviews, and meetings. People needed to get to where they were going and they wanted to do it now.

Though we stressed about finding a flight back to England, of even just finding a train out of Germany, I secretly loved the idea that we would be stuck in Europe for weeks. Tack on a month, and I was happy as a clam. Sure, my money was dwindling, but this was exactly what your 20s are for: spending recklessly and going on adventures.

Eventually, we made it to England before our original flight home would take off. Instead of a nice week in the countryside, then a week in the city for that hustle and bustle, we had three days to cram in whatever we wanted to see in England. I argued with our accommodations, the places we had to cancel close to the last minute. They complained we weren’t giving them enough time, I rolled my eyes and wondered if they even knew what was going on outside of their home. We were looking at booking flights numerous times a day, trying our best to hop, skip, and jump a few countries over, but there was no way to do so that would give our accommodations advance notice. Besides, who else was going to be staying there? The whole of Europe and the UK was grounded.

Though it impacted our trip significantly, it wasn’t so terrible that we had to re-book flights, that we had to scramble to find a place to stay. We had friends in the Netherlands and in Germany, friends who would happily let us stay for free. We were lucky that we had the means to top off our credit cards with extra funds, should we need them. Though not as big of a problem as we made it out to people once home, it was an adventure that made our trip a little more exciting. It also reminded us that we can plan out our trips, our lives, to the very minute, but Mother Nature will just laugh and show you a new path.

A lover of all things Karl Lagerfeld, Golden Girls enthusiast, and finds happiness in books from Hemingway to Harlequin. https://luxuriouslythrifty.com/

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