Europe – 1978
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6 KJV).
“Pam, international travel is hard work and exhausting,” said Dad. At that point, I had only seen pretty postcards of Europe which made it look like heaven on earth to me. My dad was a World War 2 veteran who fought in Germany the last few weeks of the war and helped repair the damage in Austria until 1946. He returned to Europe on business trips numerous times. How difficult can it be to get on a plane and go see pretty places? But I found out Dad was right.
I was eager to try out my high school German in Austria and Germany. I researched the flights and found a charter flight from Ohio to Frankfurt for $389, forty percent of my monthly take-home pay as a new graduate nurse. I bought a twenty-one day Eurail pass for $220 to take me on the train or boat anywhere in Europe. I nearly memorized Arthur Frommer’s travel book called “Europe on $10 a Day”. I carefully tore out the sections on Germany, Austria, and France to decrease the weight of the large paperback.
I carefully followed Mr. Frommer’s advice taking only three conservative clothing outfits, a small bottle of Woolite soap, and a ten-foot clothesline to hang in my room every night. I bought a new pair of walking shoes three months before the trip and broke them in. I also bought a set of luggage wheels to make it easier to roll my small suitcase down the street. I poured over my German and French phrase books. I decided to travel alone for three weeks to see if I could survive. I asked the Lord to make it clear if I should go to Germany in the future to work with a local church. I planned to visit missionaries in Austria and France and my friend’s cousin in Germany. In between, I would be on my own.
I don’t have time to give all the details, but I had the trip of a lifetime. Dad was right. I became exhausted from trying to decipher the signs at the train stations and boat docks, avoid being accosted by drunken high school students on the train, and find a hotel to stay in at night. I had to choose the correct coins for the pay phone and change my money each time I entered a new country.
God guided and protected me every day. I met dear believers, shared the gospel with others, and experienced God’s wonderful protection. The starlit night skies in the majestic Austrian Alps, a concert in Mozart’s house in Salzburg, and touring Beethoven’s house in Bonn became fond memories.
I saw poverty in Europe just like in the States. Nor did everything look like a postcard. I had to pay to use the restroom. Because the tap water was unsafe to drink, I had to buy bottled water. There were no drinking fountains. I paid to use the hotel bathtub down the hallway a floor below my room. There was no washcloth or hand towel in the hotel room. They charged me for each refill of coffee. The cobblestones wore out my new walking shoes in three weeks. Some of the people were friendly but others weren’t. One German woman shouted “American, Go HOME!” late at night as I walked alone down the street.
Was I glad I went? Absolutely! God taught me about Himself and comforted me in my times of loneliness. But I decided I could not be effective alone in Germany, so I remained in Ohio.
Since that first trip abroad, God has allowed me to visit over twenty-five countries. I treasure the friends I have all over the world, missionaries I have met, and opportunities I have had to share the gospel. After September 11, 2001, air travel security changed dramatically and made traveling more cumbersome.
As soon as the Lord leads me to visit a country, I learn as much of the language as possible. I read about the history, customs, and read blogs of people who live there. I always try to find a local church for worship on Sundays. I enjoyed tours to China, Israel, and Costa Rica. Because I found long flights to be exhausting, I arrived the day before the tour started to give me a day to recover and adjust to the new time zone. In 1978, I arrived home from Europe at one A.M. and went to work at the hospital at three P.M. I barely survived that busy shift on the medical-surgical unit. Because of that grueling experience, I learned to schedule a few days at home to recover before returning to work.
To strengthen my gastrointestinal tract and immune system, I take a daily probiotic starting at least a month before my trip. Since I began doing this, I haven’t caught a cold or had traveler’s diarrhea. I try not to touch my face and rinse my mouth with bottled water after every meal and spit it out. When eating fruits and vegetables, the rule is, “Wash it, peel it, cook it, or forget it!” I avoid lettuce, ice, and ice cream. Since many countries don’t have toilet paper or soap in the restrooms, I keep alcohol-based hand gel and tissue handy. If malaria is present, I check out the most recent guidelines at http://www.cdc.gov. Some of the prescribed medications to prevent malaria need to be started two weeks before leaving.
I’m glad suitcases have improved and now have built-in wheels!
Please feel free to add your international travel tips in the comments section.