Alyssa Reimenschneider, Study Abroad – London, England

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From the safe, cozy, first-world comfort of your bedroom or couch or college dorm, it’s easy to gaze dreamily out the window and fantasize about everything out there in the world – all the places you want to see and the things you want to do and the memories you want to make.

You imagine yourself brave, courageous, fiercely independent, boarding a waiting plane and breathing a sigh of relief as you leave your cares behind you on the ground, toting what little you need in a weightless carry-on, clutching in your hand a round-trip ticket to everywhere.

You think of what it will be like to be on your way to big places, unencumbered by responsibility, unburdened by doubt, unchained by parameters, free at last.

You are ready to take on the wide, wild world, whatever comes, all on your own.

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You take another sip of coffee and sink back happily into your cushions. The dream is alive, and from where you’re sitting, it seems like anything is possible.

Don’t be embarrassed. I did it too. I think it’s safe to say that everyone who’s young and vaguely inexperienced has entertained similar flawless imaginings of adventure. And they’re not just passing delusions, either – you really can go all those places and do all those things you’ve been dreaming of. But there’s a flip side to the sightseeing and mountain-climbing and strolls down sun-dappled, Mediterranean streets.

You’ll have to get there somehow, and you’ll have to pay for it.

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My three-day jaunt to Italy was a gorgeous, romantic vision colored by over-exposure to movies like Under the Tuscan Sun, Eat Pray Love and Letters to Juliet. I was going to spend this portion of my break basking in the warm light that bounced off the red-and-orange hued houses dotting the mountains by the sea, sipping cappuccinos and savoring gelato, hiking the green trails that connected the five villages of the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera.

And that did happen, in a way. But not everything went according to plan. In fact, almost nothing did.

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Being inexperienced in the art of traveling, I booked my flight to Pisa much too late, which resulted in paying nearly double what I could have for the ticket. Although it was difficult for me to justify shelling out unnecessary money that I had been working for and saving for the past two years, I tried to comfort myself with the thought of how much I would enjoy the experience once I stepped off the plane. My flight in was at 8:30am on Tuesday, and my flight back to London wasn’t until 5:20pm on Thursday. I would have parts of three days to relax, explore and absorb the delicious culture and scenery of Italy.

My journey began at 4am on Tuesday, when I woke up to begrudgingly get dressed, get ready, add a few essentials to my carry-on and trek down the street in the pitch-black to wait for a bus that apparently wasn’t coming, or had already come and was the only one of its kind. I then proceeded to wait fifteen minutes for the tube to open so that I could wait fifteen more minutes for a train to come and fifteen more minutes when I changed lines to take me to Tottenham Hale, where I waited for an overground train to take me the forty minutes to Stansted. When I had made it through check-in and security and finally boarded the plane minutes before its scheduled departure, I thought the hardest part was behind me.

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Unfortunately, the transportation from the airport in Pisa to the hostel in Manarola was just as complicated, time-consuming and harrowing as the England leg of the trip, if not more. There was a shuttle from the airport to the train station, a connection between destinations that included an hour wait at La Spezia Centrale, and a long hike up a very steep hill, bags in tow, before I finally arrived at my Italian accommodation with my travel mates. By the time we made it to our room, it was 4pm and had begun to rain.

The rain continued, interspersed with periods of clouds and fog, for the rest of our stay, but even though the dazzling sun of my fantasies wouldn’t play a part in my trip, my friends and I made the most of our time in Italy. With the soggy conditions, hiking seemed out of the question, but we took the train around the Cinque Terre, from village to village, exploring the cobbled streets, admiring the colorful houses nestled in clusters on the tiered hills, staring out at the wide teal sea, and eating as much gelato as we could find. It was short, tiring, and full of anxieties about train times and tickets, but it was sweet. We managed to make it to all five villages, sample authentic Italian panini, spaghetti, seafood and coffee, make friends with the local stray cats, pick up passable Italian accents, and stand on the edges of the towns over the sea, staring at scenery that took our breath away. Despite all the hassle we suffered on the trip in, the full day and two halves we spent in the Cinque Terre were worth our troubles.

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The return journey, fewer than 48 hours later, should have been easier, considering we had just experienced it in reverse and were supposedly prepared, but it unfortunately proved to be a comedy of errors. On our way out, in the pouring rain again, we missed our stop in the last village when the train doors didn’t open, and at the next stop, sprinting up the stairs with our bags over our shoulders, we missed the reverse train by a matter of seconds. We made the decision to wait another hour at La Spezia Centrale before hopping on a train backwards so that we could climb up the streets of the beautiful Riomaggiore, grab a speedy lunch, and run back to the train station, now that the sun had finally appeared, so that we wouldn’t miss our connection to Pisa. Back at the airport a couple of hours later, we ran into multiple problems with our bags and the airline regulations, and when we finally landed in London, we boarded the wrong train from Gatwick to Victoria and were forced to pay extra at the gate. Afterwards, there were severe delays on the Piccadilly line, and I made it back to my homestay at about 9:30pm, twelve hours after we’d boarded the train out from Manarola.

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At this point, I don’t even want to think about how much I spent on trains and planes and buses and shuttles.

I would say that the moral of the story is plan ahead, but even when you do, there will always be surprises and mishaps and difficulties, because travel isn’t just a breezy fairy tale. Like anything else worthwhile, it requires time and work and money. But if you let yourself miss those trains and feel that panic and let go of those hard-earned summer work checks, then later, when you’re gazing out a plane window onto the patchwork land below, or standing on the edge of a precipice over the sea, or looking back at colorful memories of even one day spent in Italy, you’ll realize that even though it wasn’t easy, it was possible.

And you’ve done it.

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