This morning at work, I was all set to eat peanut butter toast for breakfast, but I left the peanut butter at home. I ended up toasting the bread and dunking it in my coffee instead. The aroma and flavor of the coffee and toast triggered a 20-year-old memory. During 1996 and 1997, I saved money for many months to take the biggest trip of my life: a nine-week European trip through The New Czech Republic, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom. To build up savings for the trip, I lived frugally, volunteered for any available overtime at the law firm where I worked, babysat, and did any other odd jobs I could to scrape together dollars.
I left in September and I brought only the bare minimum – packing everything in a large backpack. My biggest investments were the backpack itself and a good pair of hiking boots. Looking back on it now, I realize that I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of independence and autonomy. I was 33 at the time. The European adventure was the best decision I’ve ever made.
In one of the many youth hostels where I stayed in Europe, I had arrived after dinner time the night before and had showered and laid down in the lower bunk of my assigned sleeping quarters. Towers of bunk beds full of young women from Australia, Germany, France, and Spain filled the large room. I was tired and didn’t talk to anyone. I drifted off to sleep listening to George Michael on my Walkman headphones.
The next morning, we all packed up our gear and went through the breakfast line in the hostel’s kitchen/dining hall . Imagine a no-frills cafeteria line where you push your tray along metal bars and view the food from behind glass. This particular breakfast was a baguette and hot chocolate/coffee. The milky coffee was steaming and was served in a huge mug that looked more like a cereal bowl than a coffee mug. We all sat around dunking our bread into the mugs of steaming milky coffee and discussed our travel adventures. It was such a simple thing, but it’s one of my favorite memories.