Finding Your Comfort Zone While Traveling


Emma Lipkind rediscovers her comfort zone while traveling in Europe. (Courtesy of Instagram)

It’s much warmer in Paris than Amsterdam right now. It’s warmer than Berlin and Vienna, as well, but colder than Annecy, France. 

How do I know? Well, like I mentioned in my last article, I just came back from a 10-day tour around these cities for my fall break. 

I would recap the trip in chronological order for simplicity’s sake, but that would mean the most chaotic moments would be sandwiched somewhere in the middle of the article, when they actually need to be highlighted; bolded, even.

We arrived in Berlin on an overnight train from Vienna. After nine hours in a crowded train without beds and the brightest fluorescent light I’ve ever had the displeasure to witness, with about four hours of disjointed sleep under our belts, we set off to find our hostel around 7 a.m. 

We went to the wrong place. But it could’ve been worse, right?

Finally, we see “The Wombat” sprawled across a building in giant letters. Success at last. Check-in begins; this time, my friend handled the booking. As she reaches for her tote bag holding all her valuable belongings, she realizes it’s no longer with her. In fact, it was in the overhead compartment of the crowded train we got off about an hour ago. 

And thus began some of the worst three days of my friend’s life (her words, but I can confirm that this has to be true). Here’s a glimpse: not many people we encountered in Germany spoke English; we visited the Deutsche-Bahn lost-and-found office in the most random part of Berlin about 4 times; her bag was never found, in fact, they said it was likely stolen; the U.S. embassy workers in Berlin were very friendly, same with the German police. 

There wasn’t much time for sight-seeing, but we did explore a large portion of Berlin. It’s okay (not really), because someday we’re going to come back. What we did get to see, though, in between moments of denial and in an attempt to cheer up my friend, was incredible. We all marveled at how “normal” the city felt — simultaneously vibrant yet humble, modern yet obviously brimming with history, welcoming yet full of hidden gems reserved for those who care to find them. If you ever visit, make sure to eat at as many different places as possible and allot at least two hours for the Jewish Museum of Berlin.

Now we travel back in time to Vienna: the city of the Habsburg empire, schnitzel and Mozart. At least, that was our impression after just 3 days there. Despite the hefty price tag on basically everything, such as the $105 fine you can get for not having a U-Bahn ticket (guess how we know that), it was fun to visit this bucket-list city. I would happily return during the holiday season to watch the city sparkle from Christmas lights and eat more Frankfurters.

Annecy was a bit of a last minute curve-ball for us. The original plan was Geneva or Zurich, but we wanted to kick off our trip with something a bit more relaxing and, well, closer to Paris considering the multiple long-distance trains ahead of us. 

Immediately, we fell in love with this city nestled in the French alps. It became evident pretty quickly why people call it “the Venice of France.” With crystal clear water and snow-capped mountains serving as a backdrop for the narrow streets and canals, Annecy had us wrapped around her finger. We ate delicious food authentic to the region, such as Raclette, a melty cheese that belongs on basically anything you dare add it to. We even did some light damage shopping between long lunches and even longer coffee breaks. It was two days done incredibly right, not to mention the fact that it was our only hotel-stay, and after living in hostels for the remainder of the trip, I am looking back at that very, very fondly. 

From Annecy, the first leg of the journey, we jump to Amsterdam, the last one. After the disaster in Berlin, we weren’t exactly optimistic. But perhaps the universe sensed a need for some relief, especially for my friend, and allowed us to fall absolutely in love with this Dutch city. From the Rijksmuseum, where I discovered a love for Dutch landscape painting, to the stroopwafels, to the clog and tulip motifs on every souvenir, it was unbelievably charming. It’s true what they say though, the bikers will not stop if you dare get in their way. Of all the places we visited, of all the experiences we shared, Amsterdam takes the cake by a mile. Maybe it was the relief to leave the chaos of Berlin behind — my friend with a new passport in hand — or maybe we were just meant to finish on this happy note. Regardless of the details, we are already planning our return to the Netherlands. 

It was 60 degrees on my walk from the bus back to my homestay apartment, and it frankly felt like the warmest welcome home I could have imagined. I missed Paris, I discovered. Hearing French on public transit instead of Dutch or German felt almost homey. To be able to understand and communicate with your surroundings is something I will hardly ever take for granted again. 

After these 10 days, which felt like eternity, I am overjoyed to spend this next week in Paris. I will go to class, return to my beloved Prêt-à-manger, eat dinner with my host mom, visit some museums and awe at the architecture with a boulangerie sandwich in hand. 

When the dust settles, it feels good to return to comfort and safety. I never thought Paris would be that for me, and I’m not sure if it’s because I was forced to make this city home or because I truly am meant to be here, but it doesn’t matter. I just want to sleep in my bed, and that is exactly the first thing I’m going to do.