U.K. – Round 1

Since I keep writing about how much I love traveling, I wanted to take some time to touch on my first international trip, which sparked my fascination.

If you can imagine a group of 40 American 14-year-olds packed into hotels, planes, coaches, and British and Irish cities, then (a.) you might want to see a therapist, and (b.) you can imagine what my first time out of the US was like. Even though this all might sound unpleasant, please know that I’m joking – of course not every part of this trip was perfect, but that’s what made it fun and memorable. I would definitely do it again.

Before this trip, the most I had been away from home was when I went to summer camp – a two-hour car ride for a week at camp.To say I was nervous would be putting it mildly. I was now facing not only a 7-hour flight for a 22-day stay, but also leaving my familiar country and culture for the first time. I honestly had no idea what to expect, but I went anyway: that’s just how I am. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Now, adjusting was NOT easy. Taking your first international flight overnight, not being able to sleep due to uncomfortable seats and spongey plane food, worrying about getting through customs, plus jet lag, made for a rough first day. However, once I got some sleep, got to know fellow group members better, and after I puked in the lobby of our fancy hotel in London (the staff were so nice about it), I was ready to go!

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Big Ben and I, July 2008

If I were to write about everything that happened, this post would take 22 days to read. So instead, here are the highlights:

While exploring England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland I…

  • Toured Chislehurst Caves: ancient, sacrificial ritual spaces turned bomb shelters during WWII turned tourist attraction
  • Rode many double-decker buses
  • Visited the Tower of London and saw the Crown Jewels as well as Henry VIII’s many wife-beheading stations
  • Just missed the changing of the guard at Buckingham (one of our group leaders cried..?)
  • Saw ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Musical’ and thought “wtf”
  • Practiced sword fighting and watched a trebuchet launch a giant fireball
  •  Stayed in a hostel for the first time
  • Was maliciously fed haggis (sheep’s intestines cooked in a sheep’s stomach) under false pretenses of recieving ground beef
  • Learned how true Scotsmen wear kilts. Key word: “commando”
  • Thought I found Nessie at Loch Ness, but it was just my thumb on the camera lens
  • Visited Edinburgh for the first time ❤
  • (Almost) rapelled down a castle tower in Wales. I DO NOT do heights, so standing on the edge was good enough for me
  • Made Irish soda bread, milked a cow, played in a muddy bog, and watched a kid wrangle a pig – all in the same day
  • Kissed the Blarney Stone (can you feel the eloquence in this post?)
  • Visited a crystal factory where I had a glass shamrock engraved with my family’s names
  • Witnessed the drama resulting from a group member stealing €300 from our coach driver’s tip jar (I can’t make this stuff up)
  • Spent the night in a creepy and allegedly haunted English inn
  • Wrapped it all up with an amazing home-stay with an English family, including: a cathedral tour, a visit to a safari park, and a somewhat awkward cookout celebrating the Fourth of July (or ‘some unpleasantness in the colonies’ as their pamphlets say)

Just to touch on the home-stay in more detail, this was by far my favorite part of the trip. For three days I was totally immersed in typical English life, hosted by a wonderful family who spoiled me. I’m talking a king-sized bed, fun day trips, great food, and just great company.

On top of all that, last year (seven years on) they drove four hours round-trip to come visit me while I was at Harlaxton Manor. I’ll touch on this trip in a future post. If the William’s family is reading this, don’t forget how amazing you all are. I hope we’ll get to see each other again soon!

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With the amazing William’s family! Minus Leah who was asleep in the car

Overall, this first taste of international travel made me fall in love with the UK and Ireland, and I have had the travel bug ever since. Obviously I will document future trips here as well!

So here’s a life hack for any 14-year-olds out there: if the People to People Student Ambassadors Program sends you an invitation for an international summer trip, say “yes.”

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