June 3, 2007. After saying good-bye to my parents and a round of hugs and photos, I finally walk through the US customs door at the Toronto Pearson International Airport. The automatic door closing behind me, I step in line at the US customs. Again, I was jittery with excitement. Although not my first backpacking trip, this would be my first long-term backpacking trip, scheduled for almost two and a half months. Looking around me, I see families, loving couples, and other backpackers with their gear in line, some looking fresh and excited, some looking worn and tired.
Clearing customs with no problems, I found my way to the gate. I was very early, just like my first backpacking . In fact, I was at the same gate I used when flying out for my very first backpacking trip just a few months before. I had brought my entire 60 litre pack with me, causing many people to scan me with curious eyes. But I was in good company. I see other people with similar packs, waiting impatiently for their flights. I had refused to check my bags in with US Airways and they had lost my bags too many times when I was flying through Philadelphia. I walk to a pay phone, and with my pack beside me, I have a long conversation with my parents before I leave.
Finally, after what seemed to be forever, my flight was called. Walking out of the terminal, I see the jet in front of me. After detaching the small upper portion of my pack, I place the larger, bulky section on the luggage rack, walk to the plane and up the steps. I pause briefly before the steps to feel the ground of my home before setting off. I knew that I would not be back on this continent for a long time. It is difficult to describe the feeling at the start of what you know is going to be an adventure far away from home, so I won't even try it. Just know that the entire first day is always such a wonderful experience, the excitement and anticipation reaching a climax, knowing that you'll soon be in a new land with new cultures to explore, where the rules are different, and where you will meet many very interesting people with very interesting views and experiences to share.
During the approach to Philadelphia, I hear the announcements of which gates the connecting flights are. Since this is a small plane, the list only contains connections for present passengers. When they announced Madrid, I suddenly feel another surge in excitement, as I knew that announcement was for me. Suddenly, everything seems to real. I thought about all of the interesting places I will soon be in - Madrid, Morocco, Southern Spain.... Arriving at Philadelphia International Airport, I immediately find a pay phone to update my parents on my progress. I end up in a long conversation, as I had four hours to kill before my next flight. I had booked an early flight into Philadelphia since I didn't want to be late for my flight to Madrid, else I would have to wait another day before the next flight to Madrid.
In the next couple of hours, I purchase some food, and sit at the food court I am now so familiar with from my interview flights and my trip during the summer. It feels good to be back in the airport not on the way to a stressful interview with homework piling up. While enjoying my food, I continue to fill out a "cheat sheet" I'm making that contains important vocabulary for the different languages that I will encounter - Spanish, Arabic, French, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Portuguese. I also include some information on social habits, etiquette, safety and common scam information, as well as special foods and drinks for each country and area I will be visiting - Spain, Morocco, Gibraltar, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Portugal. I had brought a stack of printed pages from Wikipedia, and went to work transferring the important information to my two cheat sheets.
Finally, after a lot of studying, including a crash course in reading Greek, Cyrillic, and special Turkish and Romanian characters, I finish my cheat sheet. There are some holes in my language cheat sheet, but figure I can fill those holes up later on during the trip. It had been getting closer to my flight, and I was glad I had something to pass the time with, else the anticipation would have made me mad. Taking the shuttle, I walk over to the international terminal, which was now familiar to me since my last backpacking trip, brining back memories of my excitement during my first ever trip without my family.
After a final call to my parents to tell them I've made it onto my flight to Madrid, I board the plane and find my seat. There is ample storage to place my giant bag in, which was a huge relief to me.