It was early September 1974 when my college friend Jan and I arrived in London for our semester study abroad program. It was my first trip beyond the United States – with the exception of Canada, but growing up in Minnesota, I never thought of Canada as “foreign” – and my first flight across the Atlantic.
We arrived at night, and after finding our room at the Hotel Europe, we headed out on Cromwell Road for our first British meal. We settled on a nearby café, where we were directed to a table for four, already occupied by two older gentlemen. After the initial shock of this new custom of filling seats rather than seating groups who actually knew each other, we introduced ourselves. We were from the states…in London for the first time…studying British government and politics. The facts poured out as we awkwardly made conversation.
One of our tablemates I don’t remember; the other I will never forget. He was Irish, with a world of years and life experience beyond our mere twenty. He took in all of our talk, sat back in his chair and smiled. “Drink in every drop,” he told us. Then as if to make sure we had really heard him, he repeated it: “Drink in every drop.”
I carried the wise Irishman’s words with me that semester as I traveled throughout Britain and beyond. They reminded me to stop in the National Gallery on my way to class and take in Monet’s “Water-Lilies” for another moment. They tagged along on the little train to the top of Mount Snowdon in Wales when the conductor earnestly asked us to describe “flat land,” something he had never seen. And they packed themselves inside my suitcase when the semester was over, my greatest souvenir, invisible to everyone but me.
Travel has remained one of the constants in my life since that first time abroad, challenging, enriching and grounding me in the best ways possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s a grand vacation or a local day trip. I want to be sure I visit some place new every year. Something I’ve never seen before, a place I’ve never been. All of my travels – even the difficult moments – have made me stronger, view life with greater compassion and perspective and maybe even have changed me in ways I’ll never know.
It wasn’t until 2004 that I had the chance to return to London, this time with my husband and two teenaged children in tow. In a way, it felt like coming home, returning to the place where my life as a traveler began, where my younger self was first dazzled by the wonder of it all. I was struck by how easily I slipped back into that world from so long ago. It was as if my mind had called up a file folder labeled “When you lived in London” and knew exactly where I needed to go and what I wanted to share with my family.
In 2016, sharing my travel experiences took on a new and expanded meaning when I created this blog. My hope was to feature photos and stories from my years of travel – past and present – as well as essays about being a traveler in the world, lessons I’ve learned, places I’ve loved and even a few occasional notes about life.
There was no doubt in my mind that my first blog post would tell the story of that oh-so wise Irishman from my first night at the London café. Although I never knew his name or had the chance to thank him, I wanted to honor the serendipity of that moment and the best piece of travel advice – and life advice – that I have ever received.
Drink in every drop!