“Sometimes on the way to a dream, you get lost and find a better one”

When anyone asks me if they should apply for Bus2alps, to begin the process of trying to take flight and become a traveler, adventurer, and tour guide, the first sentence out of my mouth is always the same:

You are an idiot if you don’t at least apply.

I was stuck. Sitting in a glass cubicle in an office that I hated. My headset clamped onto my temples too hard. My eyes strained from looking at a computer program built in the 90’s (don’t ask…the company had many problems. Being computer unintelligent was one of them). I had been out of college for almost a year and I had an hour-long commute to a dreary, cement building by a decaying harbor in the horrible town of Lynn, Massachusetts. On my lunch breaks in early spring, I would launch out of my seat, grab my sandwich and run out the door and down the street to the sand. The beach was the only comfort in that place. I would roll up the legs of my ugly office pants and stand in the numbing water, watching the planes take off from Logan Airport, and wishing I was on one of them. If I had a really horrible day, I’d let my hair down and jump on the swing-set, pointing my feet to the sky, wishing I was looking down instead of up.

And then I was; peering out of the little oval window down onto the same exact beach I had paced for months. The nose of the plane was pointed toward Rome.

I had thrown myself into a life-changing opportunity that began with a delayed flight and a last-minute solo trip through multiple countries. Which was appropriate, according to my track record of travel previously. And then it began. Life as Bus2alps knows it. And it was beautiful, and I learned. 

In the past year and a half, I have accumulated so much knowledge, experience, stress, life lessons, and happiness. I conquered public speaking. Give me a microphone and I can ramble for hours. ( I can even tell people to “PLEASE LISTEN BECAUSE THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT” without sounding like an incredible snot). I have learned to navigate cities I haven’t even been to. I have more patience with people than I ever thought possible. I have learned the art of persuasive speaking – in ways that can make a rainy day seem like just the waiting time for a rainbow. I can communicate in languages you have never even heard of. Not fluently, but, you know, like hand signals and stuff. Try asking for a fork in Croatian and see how far you get…I got salad tongs on my first try. I can also actually communicate in Italian, though it’s broken, and I sound like a two-year old. But I can understand almost everything, and if a bus driver comes at me in rapid Napolitano dialect, I can get the gist of it enough for me to know if I should duck and cover, or simply nod in agreement.

I can stomp up to a hotel manager and demand that his night staff treats my students more professionally, and he actually listens to me.  Like, he actually takes me seriously. I can discover alleyways that lead to perfect views of perfect historical monuments that allow travelers with me to take perfect pictures that make their trips perfect. I am proud of my fun facts and secrets too. I can work my way through the Constant Contact program with ease and send out mass emails like it’s my job. I can give a walking tour of Venice, Milan, Verona, and Florence. (And piece one together in Rome if need be) I can use Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, every major social media program in ways that help build a company, instead of just ways to pass around cute cat videos. (Though I can do that well too) I can make friends in any country, in any language, but I can also make business contacts as well. I can suck it up even when I’m having a bad day – because I have to – because my happiness is the key to others. I can sell you something without coming off as a pushy sales person. That may not mean that I am a salesperson or make millions, but if I am telling you to buy something, it means that I believe that you are perfect for this product and this product is perfect for you. (Sorry I’m not sorry.) I can now explain to you in great detail about international immigration laws. I can find beauty in even the most desolate parts of a town. I can be planning on leaving for Oktoberfest one minute, and be absolutely (ok not right away but I got there) ok with going to Croatia instead. I can navigate the Rome bus and subway system, the Venice vaporetti system, the Milan Subway, and the Vienna subway with ease. I can multitask like a mofo.  I can live out of a suitcase every weekend and be organized enough that I have everything I really need. I have learned how to look completely (ok not completely but close) calm when going through passport checkpoints.  I can pick a movie for a group of fifty individuals and have the majority like it (most of the time). I can give a pretty kick-ass boat tour around the isle of Capri. I can say I have grown to be more confident in myself with asking for directions when needed. I can say that I have matured more in a year than in all of high school and college put together. I can dress so that I look European enough that I don’t get questioned on the streets. I can find cheap flights easier than most.

I have learned so much (that list is only what comes to mind right now but it is so so so much longer than that)  and have been able to experience so much: Flying off into narrow canyons in the shadows of the Alps, diving into the crystal-blue waters off of Capri, making friends in Sorrento, eating too much chocolate in Perugia while winding down its narrow cobblestone alleyways, parading up the same church isle as Julie Andrews, skiing the Jungfrau area until my legs gave out and my eyes hurt from the greatness of the ice, snow, and rock of the Eiger looming above, eating fish off the bone on an island hopping cruise that took us to the tiny towns of Croatia boardered with colorful, worn, wooden boats, falling asleep while looking at the white-washed world under feet while heading to the top of Mt. Solaro, having a humbling conversation with a weathered Roman man on the bus to the Vatican, diving through canyons full of glacier runoff, discovering secret gardens, making gelato, finding the closest thing to Belle’s library and dancing around in it almost alone, seeing the Lippizaner Stallions breathe white puffs of air as they rest in their stalls in the center of Vienna, sledding at night under the biggest sky with the brightest stars I have ever seen, walking the halls of an emperor’s summer home as the moonlight glints on the marble floors – still in tact after centuries.  I’ve hiked up mountains as I listened to the sound of Swiss cowbells, swam through caves trying to avoid the sting of jellyfish – pink against the green water, glowing and reflecting on the rocks above.

I’ve listened to so many stories, of old men when they were young and fit, diving into the water from the nearby rooftops, I’ve met aspirational rappers, and mothers missing their children as they study in other parts of Europe. I’ve met butchers, farmers, and jewelry designers. I’ve met American students that fit the stereotypes so perfectly, I have to apologize for them, and others that have baffled me as to how inquisitive, smart, and kind they are – and how willing they are to learn about the world. I have met bearded guys on the train that kept me company, I’ve met pilots with daughters my age that are working in South America, I’ve met crazy, crazy people who like to base jump on their days off (and secretly wish I could go with them). I’ve met people who have followed their hearts across oceans, and now live completely different lives than they thought they would – simply because of love. I’ve  met many that have felt unwanted and discriminated by the United States, and because of this, I have learned even more than if I had just stayed home. I have met many, learned so much, but there is one that I have met and learned from that is above all of this: Rami.

Before Bus2alps had an office, our hours of internet were to be held in Astor Cafe – left side of the Duomo, you can’t miss it. And if you know me, you know the story. But Rami Saltagi was different and because of him I survived and thrived in this past year. I met him early, but soon was in love with him and soon my dream of living and working here with Bus2alps, coincided with living and working on my relationship with him.

Maybe that was my downfall, because I wanted to spend time with my boyfriend and my company. For, truthfully, Bus2alps is a lifestyle, not a job – and having anything else is definitely difficult. Maybe it was because I didn’t entirely “fit in” with the group of people who were my co-workers. Maybe it was because of mistakes I made early on in my life with Bus2alps that I couldn’t fix or make up. Maybe it was simply because I could not be a salesperson.

But recently, Bus2alps told me that I had to make a decision. One way, I would salvage my history with them and maintain my position in the company so I could travel with them and do what I love for at least another semester – but I would be making a conscious decision that may put my relationship in more legal trouble than it already is in. In the past year, I had given the company my everything. I had worked my ass off. I had done everything they asked of me legally to do to the point where I had nothing else to give. But this was asking too much.

The other option? Quit.

Sometimes, on the way to a dream, you get lost and find a better one. I got lost. Lost in the foam of a perfectly created cappuccino, lost in the echo of “BUONGIORNORAGAZZE” every morning, lost in the shadow of the Duomo, and lost in the brown eyes of a European.

Bus2alps was my dream, and I lived it for a year and a half. But now, I’m sitting in Florence, jobless, but completely satisfied knowing that I have found so much of a better dream than what I had in my head when I flew over that beach.

Maybe the second sentence about Bus2alps will be filled with painful truths and some warnings, but I shake them when I say the first. I make it stick, because flying here on that first plane, was the best decision I have ever made.

So, though I never was given a thank you, I will give one to them.

Thank you, Bus2alps, for allowing me to learn, to grow, to see Europe. Thank you for the opportunities, the lessons learned, the tough skin, the lows and the highs. Thank you for the stress – it only made me learn to deal with it better. Thank you for the demotions. It only made me work harder. Thank you for the days at the lake, the nights on the mountains, the dinners under the Tuscan sun and the toasts of Champagne to being young, wild, and free. And thank you, more than anything, for putting me in Florence, when I asked to be in Rome. And for having office hours at Astor every morning at 10 am.

Thank you, so.incredibly.much, for that.

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Coach Bus Seat is Always Greater than Airport Floor

I’m slumped down on my backpack in a corner Termini Train Station wondering what my next move is. Tuya sits next to me going over the train timetable in her hands – as if hoping that if she stares hard enough, a new opportunity to get to the airport would arise. We had missed the last train to Fiumicino where we were hoping to spend the night lounging among the luggage carousels until the morning, when our flight was scheduled to leave. However, one mistake, and we ended up on the streets with the only option of getting there being a sixty euro cab ride, or trying our luck with a questionable hostel and possibly missing our flight in the morning. Welcome to independent traveling. Where the trains are simply unable to depend upon to come at a certain time and hostels book up the instant you need them. Where tickets are purchased for the wrong dates and street signs become unreadable. Though it is these °on your own° travel plans that usually stir up the greatest adventures and the °it wasn’t funny then but it is now° stories, sometimes, the only desire is to sit back and enjoy the view out the window instead of the map in front of your face.

 

Cue the idea of guided travel or group touring. Many are nervous when booking a tour of any sort. I have heard the typical explanations as to why it would never work out; °but I don’t want to be herded around in a group,° °but it won’t be the same experience.° They are understandable, but sometimes it is so much easier to climb into a bus and curl up against the window seat and not have to worry about if the connection will work, what stop to get off at, or if there will be a strike in the middle of your vacation plans. And there is a guaranteed bed when you book a trip.

Sitting in Balmers hostel in Interlaken, Switzerland. I watched as Cody stumbled into breakfast- he had been my bunkmate from earlier in the weekend, but now the hostel was full and he had no place to be.

“So, where’d you end up?” I asked as he set down his tray of breakfast that he had bought seeing that he had no free breakfast cards.

“Well I stayed up as long as possible on the couch,” he muttered, squinting at the type of jam packet he had in his hand, “And then they kicked me out of there, and then I went up to the hammock room and it was freezing but open so I was there for a few hours until they found me, and then I just walked down the street to a clearing and had to set up my tent.” He stirs his coffee as he looks up at me.

“Next time, I’m booking a trip with you guys,” he concludes, and I have never been happier  to have a bed complete with a patchwork quilt that keeps away the alpine breeze.

 

When in Ireland, I took a ten day tour. The wheels on the bus went round and I would hop off, take pictures, stay in hostels and experience areas I could never get to by train or public bus. Try asking a public transportation Irishman to pull over for a second because you need to take a picture of the sheep on the side of the road…not happening. But with a tour, you can have sheep pictures forever!  I had an excellent time filled with fables from the Irish tour guides and the people I met on the bus are now some of my friends spread around the world. We’re planning a reunion trip and swap travel stories constantly. I would have never met as many wonderful people on my own – when hostel beds are silent at night and most keep to themselves. Traveling with a group does not make you a tourist. It makes you a traveler without the hardships of coordinating time tables, trains, planes, and automobiles. It can help you get more places in a shorter amount of time (think five or six countries on one pretty awesome bus trip.) Try doing that with just a train schedule and get back to me. It’ll be the hardest puzzle you’ll ever have to do. A tour allows you to travel for the pure enjoyment of experiencing places and cultures instead of airports and angry conductors, ticket women, and grumpy old info booth attendants. The extra few Euros is worth it. Plus, you’d just spend them on changing your mismatched tickets in the long run anyway.

 

As Tuya and I walked out of Termini, a man named Melody tried to help us buy a taxi.

°Wait until the bars close and the cabs are cheaper,° he boasted to us as he led us across the street to a bar full of the wrong kind of people. And we sat there in amused misery as this man attempted to make us dance as others were creepily eying our luggage stuffed in the corner of our booth. The minute the clock struck two we ran to the cabs, bartered down to forty euro (much more than the twelve it would’ve taken if we hadn’t missed our train) and sat in the airport as it became busy in the early hours of the morning, our bums growing icily numb on the cold marble floor. The next weekend, we were on the Bus2alps trip to Interlaken. Get on the bus, get off right outside the door to the hostel. Bed, Breakfast, and a guide to tell us just where to ski, to eat, and the secrets of one of the most beautiful towns I have ever seen. As we climbed into bed, Tuya’s voice echoed off the wooden beams.

“This is so worth it,” she sighed and rolled over – escaping from airport floors and train station bars.

It was definitely worth it.

I’ll see you on the bus.

 

 

Lisa Harvey is a current Bus2alps travel specialist and loves that her job consists of helping others see the world as it should be seen – through the eyes of a traveler, not a tourist. However, she also has excelled in airport sleeping, train strike evasion, and the random encounter of the agitated taxi man at odd hours in the morning.

Bussing through Ireland

For some reason, the owner thought it’d be a good idea to paint it Kelly green, and to make it worse they painted a leprechaun on the side. Typical. Tourist. But it was cheap, and it was easy, and it was my savior from planning, and procrastinating, and producing nothing but worry. My backpack was tossed in, with the bags of the Canadians and the Chinese and the Australians and the Swedish, and I sat in my own seat, curled up behind my coat and I looked out the window to the green, the leaves, the sheep, the ocean, listening to the Irish brogue of our driver as he lulled me to sleep. And that bus, that horrid green, that blends-but-clashes-with-the-landscape green, that contained a small collaboration of nations, rolled over the hills of Ireland and down to the coast and back up again. Over and over. Like the surprisingly blue waves off the shoreline. And I would sit, and lean my head against the window, swaying back and forth with the rocky road, sitting in my adopted, moving home, feeling that this was the safest place in the world, the safest, strangest place I’ve ever been. This bus, where I knew no one. Where I was no one. No one but the lone American girl that had studied in Italy and was from Boston. And the freedom of it – the freedom of being able to be anyone I wanted. To do anything I ever wanted to do, say what I wanted to say. I could. I had no restrictions, no baggage, no history. No one had any expectations. They knew me as I acted that week and nothing more, nothing less. So it was ok, when some days I was loud and happy, and laughing, and talking, and telling stories about my life, my home, about Italy, about people that I loved, my pets, about what I missed from home, my school, about everything that I have ever known, releasing my mysteriousness, letting them know me, letting them understand. But it was also ok to sit in my own seat, legs pulled up tight to my chest. Sit. Think. Listen. Learn. Quiet. And I’d feel so happy, so content, so needlessly comfortable, watching the landscapes of Ireland pass lazily outside my window. And my heart would soar and tell me it wanted to live here forever. In between the rocky coast and the rocky countryside. Weaving through the fishing harbors and the peat bogs and the myths and the fairy rings. And when I stepped off that bus and walked onto the plane that last day, the bland, white plane, I sat in my seat and brought my knees to my chest and rested my head against the window. But something, was missing.