First Life Lesson From Traveling Solo Across the World

Lesson 1: Be Thankful for All that You Are and All that You Have

Sleeping in a train while backpacking Europe!

I have no doubt that you want to hear more about how I was robbed in Italy. As you can imagine, it is a series of events I try not to think about often. But, for your learning and entertainment, I will think about it one last time to share this life lesson. I learned a great deal about subjects such as crisis management and how an embassy works, and even more about how I function as an individual. I learned to appreciate my talents and be grateful for the intangible things in my life.

It was early Saturday morning when I hopped on the train from Rome to Naples. My phone was running low on battery, so the first thing I did was plug it in. Without the phone, I would not be able to share my adventures and document everything, so it was crucial that it be fully charged for the day of activities to come. Most trains in Europe are equipped with video cameras, power outlets, Wi-Fi and many more amenities. Unfortunately, this train was much older, and only had power outlets. This unexpected situation helped to set the stage for what would happen next.

At this point, I was fully rested and excited for the day to come, but somehow, I still managed to fall asleep on the train. Usually, when I do want to sleep, I put my arm through my backpack strap or sleep directly on it as if it were a pillow. I was aware that theft was a common occurrence for both visitors and locals throughout Italy, but I did not realize how real the threat was until it happened to me. The main problem is that thieves have no disincentive for attempting to steal. There is no punishment or enforcement against someone who is caught trying to take something. Thus, if someone is caught in the act, they can simply drop it and be on their way.

I have heard countless stories about brazen robbery attempts in Italy. Thieves will open a person’s suitcase while they are standing right next to it and grab anything they can. They will walk by women and slash the straps of their purses. Pickpocketing is also a common tactic. As if all that is not scary enough, sometimes thieves use violence, and even weapons, to rob their victims.

The rail car I was riding in was configured just like a modern metro car. It has two seats facing one way and two seats facing the other way, making a little square. I was sitting in an aisle seat, and my backpack was to the left of me in the window seat. My phone was in my backpack, plugged into the charger on the windowsill. (Note that 99% of my possessions were in my backpack. I was carrying around everything I owned with me all the time). I then sprawled casually on the seat across from me and relaxed, with no intention of falling asleep.

About 20 minutes into the 2-hour train ride, I fell asleep. I awoke 30 minutes later, looked to my left, and everything was gone! For a second, I thought maybe I was dreaming, or I had changed seats and forgotten about it. I stood up and looked around the train car to see if I could locate my backpack, but it was nowhere to be found. Then it hit me, deep down in the pit of my stomach. I knew exactly what had happened. I ran through the train, checking every bathroom and seat, and asking every passenger if they had seen anything. However, we had already made two stops while I was asleep, so the thief and my backpack were long gone.

My first thought was that if only I had remained awake, none of this would have happened. As I thought more about it, I began to realize it was fortunate that I had been asleep. I had heard so many horror stories of being robbed by force, and I can only imagine what could have happened if I had been awake. The thieves could still have taken my belongings and injured me as well. Realizing this, I thanked God that I was asleep. He had a master plan for my safety, even though I could not see it at the time.

I was shocked at how good these guys were. They successfully unplugged my phone, grabbed my heavy backpack and my smaller bag, and made off with them, all without waking me. They took my passport, computer, two cell phones, rail pass, French ID, clothes, and cash. I was left with only the clothes on my back and the credit card in my pocket. Oh, and five bags of licorice from Amsterdam. My coworkers had asked me to bring some back for them. It was so thick that I did not want to carry it in my backpack. The funny thing is that I told my coworkers before leaving I probably would not bring any back because it was so heavy. Ironically, the licorice was one of the few things I still had.

I have had several people ask me why I did not keep my valuables in my jacket pocket. Some would think it makes more sense to do that, but I was more afraid of forgetting my coat than forgetting my backpack. When I hop on a train, I usually take my jacket off to relax. The rest of the time, I am always wearing it, so I never worry about it. On the other hand, I know that when I stop somewhere, I put my backpack down and when I leave I pick it up. With that sort of repetitive motion, my brain is primed to think about my backpack and not my jacket. I was more afraid that I would get off a train without my jacket than without my backpack. That is why I did not keep any of my valuables in my coat pocket.

After the robbery, I was lucky to find a very lovely family who understood some English. I was able to borrow their phone to email, my mom. I let her know that I had just been robbed and would not be able to contact her for a while. The family tried to help me get my belongings back, but it was no use. The conductor on the train did not speak any English, so I could not get help from him, either. When we arrived at the train terminal, I went to the police station located there (most terminals have a police station within the terminal). They told me I needed some identification to file a police report, which I obviously didn’t have because it had been stolen.

The police did not speak any English either, but I did somehow, through braking language barriers, manage to receive directions to the United States Embassy. There, I got a temporary passport, then returned to the train station to file a police report. I knew it would not get my belongings back, but I still needed it to receive a refund for the trains I would take to Paris, where my grandparents live. My rail pass, provided by Interrail, had allowed me unlimited train rides throughout Europe within one month. Additionally, I had bought insurance for it in case the pass was ever lost or stolen. The only catch is that the insurance was only useful in the way that it would refund me the value of the pass I had yet to use if it was stolen. Since I only used my pass for 18 of the 31 days, I was refunded for 13 of the 31 days. (Note: This pass is well worth its value and you should consider it for your travel. They have multiple options for as little as three days or as much as one month of continuous travel.)

After filing my police report, I was faced with the biggest challenge yet. How would I make it to Paris? To begin, I took the same train back I had just been on to Rome. Then, I snuck onto the second train, where I was caught by the conductor, who said she would come back for me. Luckily, she never did, and I arrived in Milan without further complications. From Milan, the only option was a “Sleeper Train” to Paris. I am sure there were others, but the language barrier and lack of willingness to help from the Italian staff left me to fend for myself. What I found funny was that these trains are designed with the intention that passengers sleep on the train, even though that is what led to me getting robbed in the first place. Luckily this time I had no belongings to watch over and I got to sleep the entire night on the train.

I had to buy a $110 ticket to board the sleeper train. This was relatively expensive, considering it was one-fourth the price of my rail pass, which was good for one month of unlimited travel. This is why I highly recommend the Interrail or Eurail pass for anyone visiting Europe for any period (Three days up to two months). I boarded the sleeper train, met a lovely couple who were traveling Europe without a rail pass and told them my story. While my story made them fear for their belongings, I had nothing to worry about because all I had left was my scooter, which no one wanted to steal anyways. Since I had nothing to lose and was only hours away from being with my grandparents, I was able to sleep through the night. Plus, I needed the sleep.

Needless to say, the 36-hour ride to Paris felt like days. I was lucky I made it to Paris in one piece and had family waiting for me. Several times I tried to imagine what would have happened if I did not have my grandparents whom I could stay with. My flight home was two weeks away from the day I was robbed, and I would not have been happy if I had to pay the costs of a hotel or pay $400 to change my flight. Instead, I was lucky enough to have the luxury of staying with my family and gaining valuable bonding time I would have neglected to spend with them because I was traveling. So I guess good things do come out of bad situations.

Unfortunately, I was still without a phone or any connection to the digital world. The only device I had access to was an old computer. Knowing that my university classes would start two days after I got home, I knew I needed to find a new laptop and phone as soon as possible. That is when I began to do what I do best, hunt down great deals and negotiate for the even better ones. Within three days, I had found a new computer located back in Maryland, negotiated a deal and purchased it with the help of my mom. Back home, everyone knew me as the frugal type who was always wheeling and dealing. I still surprised myself when I orchestrated a deal from across the Atlantic Ocean! This was when I learned the following lesson: always be appreciative of all that you have, and more importantly, all that you are as an individual. What makes you different is truly a gift from God and should never be forgotten or taken for granted.

You might be wondering, what buying a new computer has to do with being appreciative or figuring out who you are as an individual. It was not the computer itself, but the events leading to the purchase and my ease in finding such a great deal that led me to realize that God has gifted me with a unique mindset and talent. I can spot a great deal from a mile away and sell anything. Growing up I was told by many that I could sell rocks to a quarry if I wanted. It was not until January 10, 2017, that I understood what they meant and began to believe it.

After being well on my way to replacing the big ticket items at bargain prices is when I began to appreciate my God given gifts. I realized that what made me unique proved to be the valuable traits I learned about myself in this experience. Then looking back on my life, I realized the countless other time that I had used my gifts to benefit myself and others. I previously took this ability of mine for granted, but I now cherish it deeply.

In addition to this, I also realized that material things do not bring you pleasure. What mattered most to me were not the material possessions I lost, but rather the videos and photos that were on my computer and phone. I use these to make YouTube videos to share my epic adventures with all of you. It was this lost ability to share with others that angered me. On the bright side, it forced me to find a new way to share with all of you and led me to rewrite this book. I now have a new way to share with others and enlighten them about the diverse world we live in!

While I was away from technology for those two weeks, I did not feel any different. Yes, I missed connecting with others and interactions with my viewers and friends, but I soon realized that there are other ways to connect. The equivalent of those online relationships could be found through physical interactions. In fact, that’s how it was done before all this technology was created. The technology is just a luxury; a means to make the process easier and -more accessible. This experience showed me I could live without technology and still connect as much with people as I had before losing it. It just required a little more effort.

I also realized how blessed I am to have emerged from my ordeal unharmed, safe and sound. In an alternate version of my story, I could have been awake and still been robbed, possibly at gunpoint. I could have been assaulted or kidnapped, and my life could have been changed forever. Instead, my life was spared, and I only lost replaceable things.

I had many other smaller realizations, but they all pointed to the first life lesson. Be appreciative of all that you have and realize that you are blessed. I learned to see the glass half-full. It was an unfortunate lesson to have to learn, but I am glad I learned it sooner rather than later.

And don’t get me wrong, sleeping on a train is POSSIBLE…if you do it right!

Lesson # 2 to come on Thursday 7/22/17!!!

Find out more at bit.ly/bowtieguyadventures