Big Hair & Big Travels: Part 1 - Sweden
December 31st, 2016 was the day I leapt. I had a backpack, a notebook, $2000, and a plane ticket to Stockholm. I wish I could tell you what I thought the next 22 days were going to be like, but I didn’t. And looking back on that day what I can tell you is that it turned out nothing like I expected it to. I knew the very basic idea of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there, where I would stay when I got there, and to be completely honest, I had very little knowledge of the cultures of the cities I was interested in going to. All I knew is that if I was going to learn about new places, expand my understanding of the world as we know it, I had to experience it. So I boarded the 10:30pm plane to Stockholm from JFK, excited but equally nervous, and hoped for the best.
Stockholm, Sweden - January 1st, 2017 - 11:00am
I landed in Stockholm in the late morning on the first day of 2017. I slept for about 45 minutes on the plane (at this point in the trip, sleeping on moving vehicles/vessels was not something I had mastered yet) and the line to customs wrapped around northern Europe twice. I wasn’t quite comfortable with the weight of my backpack just yet and I was also breaking in my new boots. To put it lightly I was exhausted, weighed down by a 20lb backpack, and my feet hurt like hell. But I was in Sweden! I made it. This was only the beginning.
I’d been to Sweden once before, earlier in 2016, so I was relatively familiar with the airport and how to get to Norrmalm where the central train and bus station is. My first stop was Jönköping, in south Sweden, where my friend Ben lives. I got through customs, and went down to the train and bus station to buy a ticket to Stockholm Centralstation. Since I couldn’t get my cell phone to work, I spent a majority of the beginning of the day aimlessly wandering around the airport trying to get in contact with Ben. I finally decided to wing it (my motto for the rest of the trip) and got on line for a bus ticket to Stockholm.
As I’m waiting in line, I hear a presumably American couple behind me trying to decide whats more worth it, an express train that takes 20 minutes or the bus that takes an hour. There was a pretty significant price difference, but if you bought the tickets in groups of 4 or more, the price was much cheaper. My mom told me at the airport before I left that if I was going to have fun on this trip, I was going to need to step out of my comfort zone. So I turned around, was met with two friendly faces (definitely midwestern) and said, “If you want to do the group ticket, I’d happily be your third”, and a guy standing behind them immediately chimed in, “and I’ll be your fourth.”
The four of us bought a group train ticket, boarded together, and all told each other why we were traveling. Allyson and Greg were a recently married couple from Indiana, and Greg was getting his master’s degree in Barcelona. They were only spending the day in Stockholm before taking their late evening flight to Barcelona for Greg’s three month program. Michael lives in Brooklyn, a couple stops away from where I used to live in East Williamsburg. He studied fine art at RISD and recently moved to New York from Los Angeles. He’s a filmmaker and writer, working on a fantasy novel about vikings and was traveling around Scandinavia for two weeks to try to understand the culture better for his book. When they asked me what I was doing, why I was traveling and where I was going, I felt my face turn warm. “I’m not exactly sure,” was all I could come up with when faced with the question of what this journey was all about. Allyson’s face turned into a big midwestern smile as she took both my hands and said, “This is going to be really good for you.”
Jönköping, Sweden - January 1st, 2017 - 7:30pm
I arrived to the bus and train station in Jönköping in the late afternoon, where Ben was waiting for me in a big green coat and black beanie. The overwhelming stress I had been weighed down with for close to 24 hours at this point was immediately lifted off my chest once seeing him and knowing that he was going to offer me great advice and tons of comfort for the beginning of this trip. This trip was originally not a solo backpacking trip, and less than 3 weeks before I left suddenly became one. I didn’t necessarily think I could do this trip alone, but Ben absolutely wouldn’t hear any of that nonsense. He had complete faith in me. We laid in bed and ate Doritos while I looked at bus tickets, train tickets, hostel reviews and ratings, and planned the first three or four days of the trip.
If there’s one thing I learned about this trip, and traveling altogether, it’s that you have to make the decision of whether you want the trip to be a spontaneous adventure or a meticulously planned out step-by-step travel masterpiece from the get go. Because it can ONLY be one or the other, there was no way to coherently blend the two together and create your own version of Eat, Pray, Love. I took the adventure route, which was one part me being lazy and one part me trying to test my patience. This meant, to me, that I was going to plan everything (the next city, the bus/train/plane tickets to get there and the accommodation in said cities) the day before I did it. This would essentially mean I would have no idea where I was going to be the next day until I booked the ticket to get there, and that scared the crap out of me.
It was 11pm on the first day, I was at approximately 2% energy level, but I had a train ticket to Copenhagen and a hostel in downtown Copenhagen booked, as well as a bus to Berlin and two nights at a hostel in Alexanderplatz, Berlin booked.
January 1st, 2017 was the day I grabbed my bull of a life by the horns.
Submitted by: Karly Cronin