As we began to descend in preparation for landing, seats in the upright position and tray tables stowed, I started to fidget nervously in my seat. The roller-coaster flight pattern the plane was now flying in didn’t help to settle my stomach. But the bulk of my anxiousness came from the fact that I was returning to a place I hadn’t been to in over 12 years, a place that holds such significance to me.
Finally I was coming full circle in my travels, double the age I was the last time, to revisit where my passion for traveling first took root: London.
Had I really made it back? As I craned my neck to look out the plane’s porthole window, I caught a glimpse of the London skyline for the first time after all these years. I was back there again, like that first transatlantic trip I ever took.
Then I was just 13 years old. I didn’t know hardly anything about countries outside the USA, or even about myself really. (You’ve probably gathered that from my impeccable fashion sense.) When my parents proposed a trip to London to me, although I was excited to travel, I actually remember being slightly bummed when I was told the destination. That’s how little of a clue I had!
At the time I was low-key obsessed with a French language learning software we had and I spent hours trying to become fluent in français by conversing with our home desktop. So when my family planned our first trip abroad, since it wasn’t to France, I wasn’t impressed. But my mom repeatedly reassured me,
“You’re really going to like London! You don’t know what you’re in for.” Truly, I didn’t.
All packed up and on an airplane soaring across the ocean, my parents, two brothers and I set out on our voyage to Europe. The moment we arrived all my expectations were surpassed. I was instantly intrigued by the culture, bustling streets, and beautiful history in every old building that we saw. There were actually double-decker buses and red phone booths like in the movies and my history books! Everything was so old and quaint; I couldn’t get enough of it all. I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, but that one-week vacation ended up being one of the most formative times of my life, changing who I’ve become today.
I don’t know who should be more embarrassed by these photos.
Once you fall in love, you’re never quite the same. It’s like an addiction, a longing. And since that first trip I’ve forever had travel in my blood and London in my heart. I fell in love with the adventure, exploration, and the unknown. It’s the reason that after a school trip to Italy and Greece, a year studying abroad in Spain, and visits to a dozen other countries later and I’m still hooked. I’m currently living in Galicia, Spain for my third year, teaching English as an auxiliar de conversación. When my high school asked me to chaperone their annual trip to London this year, I couldn’t sign up fast enough!
This time around as I stepped out onto the cobblestone streets and into the cool air of London, I had 34 rambunctious Spanish teenagers and two coworkers in tow. I looked up at Big Ben as the bell began to chime, the London Eye slowing turning in the background, and all the emotions I had half my lifetime ago came flooding back. Everything felt exactly the same, except for me. I started my travels as just an awkward, insecure child who got nervous even ordering at a restaurant and hung close to my mom. But now, I had returned a self-assured, well-traveled adult (arguably still awkward) who could order in more than one language and this time responsible for nearly three dozen students. It felt like I was proving something to London, like—look at me now!—you knew me then but I’ve come back a changed woman, a large thanks to you.
I tried to recreate some of the old photos from our family vacation that my dad took, which of course all came out completely different.
I could see so much of myself in my students, that same timidness I had when I was a teenager there. So I made it my duty to show them the time of their lives. Most were very shy and avoided any situation that they might have to speak in English with anyone. The first night with ‘free time’ to eat and shop wherever they wanted in Leicester Square, almost the entire group of them ate at Burger King since it was familiar from Spain and they didn’t have to translate a menu or converse with a waiter. I couldn’t believe it! Meanwhile I was eating every bit of foreign cuisine I could get my hands on—Japanese, Mexican, Lebanese, etc.—and of course some good old English breakfast. When in England!
Our trip was absolutely fantastic! We did it all: from the London Eye to nearly every museum in the city, to Picadilly Square and Buckingham Palace, to seeing the musical Mamma Mia and crossing the Millennium Bridge. The highlights for me were visiting the statue of Amy Winehouse in Camden and pushing my cart through Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross on my way to Hogwarts! I even got to visit with two of my great friends that live there.
But as always our 5 days in this magical capital city flew by. The trip was over as fast as it had started. During our stay I did my best to make our time there amazing for my students, and by the last day they all were complaining that we couldn’t stay longer. I hope that they never forget this trip and that it will be an experience that impacts their lives forever like it was for me. Just maybe, we now have a few world travelers in the making. Until next time London!