With my 2020 travel plans grounded, it’s now been about 10 months since I set foot in Europe. And I’m itching for a fix. I find the things I miss most aren’t the glitzy cities and the famous sights. For those of us fortunate enough to travel frequently, what we really miss is our traveling lifestyle — those everyday joys of being fully in the moment. We crave the freedom of leaving the office headaches and the household chores behind, and having a span of unstructured time to play, explore, learn, and discover. For travelers, there’s something about life on the road that’s simply magic. Here are a few of those quirky little things that I’m missing fiercely right now.
I miss that “Hey, I’m in Europe!” moment that appears out of the jet-lag haze on the afternoon of arrival. It’s that moment when you feel the cobbles underfoot, hear the swirl of other languages, and realize that foregoing sleep for 20-plus hours — half of which was spent jammed into an economy airline seat — has a huge payoff.
I miss the exhilaration of near-miss connections. Hopping on the train seconds before the doors hiss shut. Driving onto the ferry moments before it pulls out into a dreamy Norwegian fjord. Slipping in the door of a museum just before they lock it behind you.
I miss beautiful doorways, pretty as a picture.
I miss communicating with Italians. I miss telling them that I don’t speak Italian, only to have them brush aside my protests and launch into an impassioned monologue…which I can, somehow, actually understand.
I miss that moment, about a week or two into your trip, where everything starts to fit into your bag perfectly. You’ve got the system down, able to pack up at a moment’s notice and hop a train to the next adventure.
I miss stunning sunsets from the top of a castle, earned by way of a sturdy hike.
I miss the many smells of a busy big-city metro station. Yes, all of them. (But some more than others.)
I miss meeting Europeans who have dedicated their lives to doing one thing and doing it right: Nicola the gelato master. Tina, who knows the Slovenian Alps like she was born for it (and she was). Gianluca the zero-kilometer Tuscan farmer. And Naomi, who geeks out about Scottish candies.
I miss when a local friend gives me a hot tip for a truly untouristy discovery — the kind of place where you can eat real local dishes, with real locals, for pennies on the euro. That hidden milk bar in Kraków. That back-streets bakery in Mykonos. That amazing fish house in Tangier.
I miss colorful boats serenely bobbing in tidy pastel harbors.
I miss road trips: Figuring out the controls and sound system on a new rental car…and inevitably stalling a few times that first day as I fumble with the stick shift. Scrutinizing maps the night before a long journey to make sure I have the best route chosen, and any worthwhile detours plotted out. And then…hitting the open road, with limitless potential for exploration.
I miss learning some historical tidbit that instantly brings great meaning to what, until that moment, had been just another boring church, castle, or museum. I love how it makes my brain tingle.
I miss bustling market halls.
I miss lifts that zip you up to the top of a mountain in moments…depositing you at the doorstep of a glorious day of hiking above the clouds and the crowds.
I miss hearing an insistently catchy pop song by a band I’ve never heard of — over and over and over again, incessantly, everywhere I go. And then, coming home and realizing nobody stateside has ever heard about it. Until a few months later, when suddenly, it becomes ubiquitous here, too.
I miss Icelandic waterfalls. The blast of cold air, the mist speckling my glasses, the pure, unbridled magnificence of nature.
I miss savoring an entirely new flavor. In Greece, discovering mastica — the sweet natural resin that tastes a bit like licorice, but not quite. In Portugal’s Alentejo, discovering that the unlikely combination of clams and pork is surprisingly delicious. In Moscow, going to a Georgian restaurant for a tarkhun (tarragon soda) and doughy dumplings dipped in a sweet, tart, explosively flavorful plum sauce.
I miss adorable stray cats sunning themselves on a scenic perch.
I miss those cultural epiphanies that unlock not just a new custom, but an entirely fresh way of perceiving the world. Italians scoff at cappuccino in the afternoon…because they believe that consuming too much milk late in the day hinders digestion. Seemingly “unfriendly” French clerks become kind and welcoming when you simply say, “Bonjour, Monsieur” or “Bonjour, Madame.” And all across Europe, after a few weeks, I actually begin to believe that “slow” service is good and polite service — it’s how a restaurant encourages the diner to take their time and savor the experience.
I miss funny signs in Britain.
I miss those little serendipities that make a trip. Stumbling upon a harvest festival in a wine-growing village…and, if you’re lucky, stomping some grapes. Checking into your B&B and learning that the next town over is hosting a Highland Games tomorrow. That time I was in Eger, Hungary, and a hot-air balloon decided to land right in the middle of the main square.
And I miss that perfect trifecta of running out of deodorant, toothpaste, and shampoo on my last morning of a long trip.
What about you? What are you missing about Europe?