After Chris was no longer an integral part of my life, a second life event struck. I was laid off from my first job out of college. The life I knew completely disappeared: no Chris, no work, no hanging out with our couple friends, and getting a new place by myself. Everything around me changed. I felt I had to start living my life from zero.
In 2002, the dot com bubble burst, and lay-offs were common. I was waiting for my turn, and it happened as expected. Luckily, the company was good to its people, and I received a severance package calculated based on the five years I had worked there. While I was waiting for the inevitable, I had made up my mind that being jobless was the best time for me to travel. I had wanted to visit Europe for a while. It would be good to finally go. I had never planned a trip myself, and now was the perfect time to start.
Inside me, there was a deep curiosity about the rest of the world. Because I had experienced life in Taipei, New York City, a suburb in New Jersey, and Boston, I knew there were endless other cities I could explore, people of different backgrounds and cultures to meet, and cuisines with interesting local ingredients I could try.
I started looking for a European tour and talked to everyone I knew, looking for a travel partner. I realized travel was an important personal goal and wanted to make sure it happened. Carey, a friend’s girlfriend from Vancouver who I’d never met, was interested. She suggested a tour company that targeted travelers ages 18 to 35. We decided on the dates and picked an itinerary over email. I packed, not sure how much stuff I needed to bring. But whatever it was, everything had to fit into a medium-size suitcase I’d bought just for the trip. We couldn’t wait to leave! My very first big trip without Chris!
I told my friends and teachers about my big exciting trip. One of my middle school teachers told me this was like a coming-out trip for royal children in the olden times. She wished me a wonderful vacation!
On April 16, 2002, at the age of 28, I excitedly boarded a Virgin Atlantic flight from Boston to London Heathrow Airport and met Carey at the hotel that was the meeting place for our tour. We were joined by some 20 other young travelers from America, Australia, Canada, and Japan. Our tour guide was an energetic handsome man who might have been my age or a few years younger. The bus driver was a quieter man but equally nice. All of us packed into a tour bus. We drove from London, Amsterdam, Munich, Mauthausen, Vienna, Venice, Rome, Florence, Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen, Paris, then back to London in 18 days. The tour motto was “we are here for a good time, not a long time.”
Every time we arrived at a new city, the tour guide handed out a city map marked places he thought we should see. Carey and I were both map people. We would quickly compare what we wanted to see. As soon as the tour guide dismissed us, we would sprint into the city crowd together.
The architecture in Europe was nothing like anything I had seen. Churches everywhere. Tulips, wooden shoes, and the red-light district in Amsterdam. Large jars of beer in Munich. The concentration camp in Mauthausen. The gold Mozart statue and Mozart chocolates in Vienna. Canals and a gondola ride in Venice. The Pantheon, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and Vatican City in Rome. David in Florence. The lion monument and wooden cabins in Lucerne. Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, and Arch of Triumph in Paris. And more churches. We packed in as much as possible!
In the past, when I traveled with Chris, I had tried collecting different souvenirs, such as bells or small ceramic figures, which were breakable, hard to store, and didn’t really make me happy later. On this trip, I ended up buying magnets, which were cheap and small, and silver rings, which were again small and something I could wear when I got home, from each city. Collecting magnets and rings to remember my trips became my travel traditions that I still do today.
I had not thought about Chris since I left Logan. I loved living out of a medium-size suitcase and seeing Europe at hyper speed. I felt a new kind of history coming alive in front of me as I walked through all kinds of streets. Not American nor Taiwanese! I felt energized and alive again!
On the flight back to Boston from London, I couldn’t stop looking through all the pictures I took. I had never taken so many all at once. I wanted to capture every moment. Every part of my senses had experienced something fresh. Since that trip, there was forever a travel bug in me. When I returned to Boston in May, I was very much recharged and felt like I had the freedom to do anything I wanted to do on my own.