Europe was great until we showed up.

Lake Como _ Us _ Patrick and ClaireSix months ago, Patrick and I decided to plan a trip to Europe. We got excited. We saved money diligently. We searched Airbnb for the perfect place to stay in Paris and the most central location in Rome. Weeks in advance, Patrick woke up at three in the morning to buy tickets to a Tottenham Hotspurs Futbol match and he booked a wine tour in Tuscany, too. We researched restaurants and sights, museums and transit. We sent out pleas for recommendations and read Rick Steve's latest travel guide as if it were the Bible. Because we'd decided to go on a trip. And we'd decided to make it great.

But expectations are joy-killers. So we tempered our excitement and realized there would be bumps and disappointments and frustrations along the way. We looked forward to the disasters—because we knew that great stories aren't made from perfect moments strung together like pearls on a string. But what we didn't expect was that what would go wrong wasn't Europe. It was us.

Let me explain. 

IMG_4674Like any naive couple of humans, Patrick and I hoped that this trip would be magical, rejuvenating and life-giving. And don't get me wrong. There were plenty of moments of awe and wonder both at God's creation and each other. There were romantic dinners and bottles of wine and sunsets. There were history lessons and moments of quiet reflection and a break from the pressures of life and work at home. And we are, and always will be thankful for the time and the ability to see the world.

But Patrick and I are the same in Europe as we are in Nashville. And so when we had our first disagreement in Europe on our very first night in Europe, it shocked us. Wasn't this supposed to be a dizzyingly romantic trip with fun and crazy stories and joy and hilarity? Wasn't this EUROPE? 

It was. And Europe was great until we showed up. 

Amsterdam by morningAs it turns out, I still have a short temper, a bad sense of direction and impatience when it comes to making decisions whether I'm standing in front of the AT&T building in downtown Nashville or the Eiffel Tower. I wasn't going to magically become more patient, loving and generous just because we we'd traversed the Atlantic Ocean. And if that seems like a simple realization—it wasn't. It was painful.

As it turns out, you don't need to plan a trip to find adventure. And  you don't need a trip to be rejuvenated. Because if you can't find joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self control at home—you won't find it anywhere else. Because you are you wherever you go. 

It's so easy to take a picture and smile. It's even easier to hide behind your camera, angry and frustrated, and snap a photo of a sunset to share on the internet. "So blessed to be in Europe!" you could write for a caption. "#CinqueTerre," you could add, just to rub it in. But photos on the internet don't do justice to the truth that is revealed through travel.


I messed up our trip to Europe. Maybe not all of it. But enough to notice. And enough to need forgiveness.

Travel isn't an escape. It's a mirror. And what it exposes isn't always pretty. It exposes the places within us that need changing. And it exposes our inability to change ourselves. But it also points to beauty so beyond our comprehension that you can realize that you are small AND you are loved.

Across the continent and the countries we chose to see, there were beautiful landscapes, breathtaking architectural feats, and history so deep and wide that I couldn't swallow it all in one bite or two or three thousand.

It was all too much to take in. 

And that is what the love of God is like.

It's like Europe.

You show up, screw it up, and it still blesses you beyond your wildest dreams. 

Patrick and Big Ben


Luxembourg Gardens


  1. Lake Como, Italy, Day 13
  2. Amsterdam, Netherlands, Day 5
  3. Sunset at Manarola, Italy, Day 17
  4. Patrick and Big Ben, Day 1
  5. Chamonix, France Day 12
  6. Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, Day 7


My favorite photos from Europe

I've been racking my brain on what brilliant topic I could use as my comeback to the whacky, weird, and uncomfortable world of blogging. How about we just start with some pictures?

Here are my eight favorite photos from Europe—the ones without our goofy faces. And don't worry. I'll share the goofy faces, too.

Big Ben by Night

Big Ben London 2013

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam 2013

The Louvre, Paris

Louvre Paris France

The View from La Basilique du Sacre Coeur de Montmartre

The View from Sacre Coeur

The Hike to Le Chapeau, Chamonix, France

View Chamonix France

The Ferry passing Verenna, Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como Italy View

Sunset in Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy

Manarola Cinque Terre Italy

Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence, Italy

Florence Italy Nightscape

So, which photo is your favorite?

Traveling Lessons: When we're worried.

"Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10


It started right away. We hadn't even left Nashville.

"Did you notice that we land in Chicago at 5:30 and our flight to London leaves at 6?" I ask casually.

"Hm," Patrick responds, rubbing his chin. "I guess I didn't."

"If we're delayed at all we may not be able to make our flight."

"It's okay. We'll be fine."

"You're right," I lie.

We're not fine. The flight is delayed. We land in Chicago ten minutes before our flight takes off. We run fast down the airport corridors, zigging and zagging through unsuspecting passengers. We're sweating. And when we arrive at the gate we yell, "WAIT!"

"I can't believe we made it," I laugh as we take our seat for the 7-hour flight. I feel relieved. Thankful. In control.

We made it, I exclaim internally, wiping sweat from my brow. We are the last ones on the plane.

And then it started again.

Westminster Abbey

"I'm concerned we won't make it to the London Eye," Patrick says checking his watch. "And if the taxi doesn't take cash, then we'll definitely miss it." Patrick eyes the tables in the restaurant. We just need two seats. No one has moved since we entered over an hour ago. We're expected on the other side of town in forty-five minutes.

"We should just go," I say, eyeing a plate of steaming mussels with envy. There's an undertone of blame in my voice. And suddenly, I realize it's a script we've been repeating over and over again since this whole journey began. 

When did we become so worried all the time?

As Patrick and I have started this three-week journey, the first lesson we realized is just how out of control traveling makes us feel. We are incredibly risk-averse* people. We like to manage our circumstances. We want to be on time. We don't want to waste money. We don't want to miss out. We can't imagine losing a reservation or getting kicked out of a cab or heaven forbid looking stupid in a foreign country. I want to look cool, feel cool, and be collected at all times. In fact, I spend most of my energy at home every day making sure that's the case. I've gotten so good at manipulating people and circumstances and money and time that I don't even realize that I'm doing it anymore.

One step in a foreign country, and there it is, rearing its ugly head. Worry.

Why do we want control? Control is a fleeting, misplaced sense of security.

Gibsons in Amsterdam

Today and tomorrow we are touring Amsterdam. The city is surrounded by canals in rings, and the canals are lined by tall, intricate buildings with sculptures, brown stone, and charm. The city was built centuries ago on three layers of sand. Some of the houses teeter to the side in a semi-permanent lean. Locals talk of global warming and rising waters.

We meander the cobblestone streets, over canals, dodging bicycles, and let the cool breeze brush our faces. And I notice a young mother pedal by with a one-year-old son saddled in the front and a toddler daughter seated on the back. None of the three family members are wearing helmets. She wobbles for a moment around a tourist, and the children wobble with her, unfazed that their fragile skulls could hit the pavement, unprotected.

Patrick and I are risk-averse. I think a lot of other Americans are too. We wear helmets. We want to know that we can avert every kind of disaster by willpower, money, preparation, or some combination of the three.

But we can't have that kind of control. It's not ours to have.



*A former version of this post said we were "risk-adverse". And while adverse and averse are words that sound similar, they have completely different meanings. Many thanks to the friend who helped me find the error. :)

Come with us.

If I could have a euro for every time someone said, "Will you pack me in your bag and take me with you?" I'd have about fifteen euros ($20.32).

Sadly, we can't pack you up and take you with us. But through the power of the internet, we can share parts our journey right here!

I haven't taken three weeks off of anything since I was 18 years old. Back then, I went to China. I overpacked, over-worried, and underprepared for the ways the travel would change me. I sent home introspective e-mails about what I was learning, and in the end, I realized the more I know, the more I know I don't know.

I hope I will rediscover that humility on this trip.  So—are you coming along?

The Itinerary:

  • London — October 3 - 6
  • Amsterdam — October 6 - 8
  • Paris — October 8 - 11
  • Lyon — October 11 - 13
  • Chamonix — October 13 - 15
  • Lake Como — October 15 - 17
  • Cinque Terre — October 17 - 20
  • Florence — October 20 - 23
  • Rome — October 23 - 25

Since Patrick and I are both pretty "type A"  we also prepared a long document of all of our travel ideas. Check out EUROPE 2013, if you're curious.

The Packing:


Patrick and I have tried to pack light for this trip. Thanks to some close friends—I whittled down my needs to the basics: Jeans, a nice pair of black slacks, one (or two) dresses, comfortable shoes, socks, and a few shirts. I threw in an old thin jacket and rain shell for good measure. My Osprey Convertible pack and Patrick's borrowed Osprey Meridian bag can convert to backpacks or roll like suitcases, and they can be carried on a plane. Brilliant!

And also: Some vitamins, medicine, and sleeping pills for the plane.

What I'm not bringing: Laptops. Work. Writing. 

The Reading:

IMG_1633Perhaps more important to me than what I'll wear while we're gone is what I'll read. After culling through a long list of suggested reading, I chose three (ish) books.

1) The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank. Patrick and I hope to go to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Somehow, I've never read her diary. I know that reading it will give me a better understanding of what she endured in that place.

2) A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway. Again, despite how much I love writing and reading—Hemingway hasn't made it to the top of my list in a long time. But this book, about his early twenties living in Paris, just makes sense for this trip. I've already read the first three paragraphs and I want to devour the whole thing.

3) Rick Steve's Paris, Italy, and TV episodes. Okay, so we have to take some travel books. PLUS if you go to iTunes, you can purchase $1.99 episodes of Rick Steve's television show. They are 30 minute segments, and give you a great overview of a place. I know it's not "reading," but I'm looking forward to watching an episode while we train to the next location.

The Gifts:

One of the great things about our trip is that we are going to visit some old friends—and one of them is very old indeed! It was important to me to bring each of our friends that is giving us a meal and a place to stay something special from the states.

Thanks to Pangea in Hillsboro Village, I think I came up with just the right gifts. (More on this later!)

The rest:


Cleaning the house for our super awesome house-sitters, clearing out the refrigerator so things don't go bad, finishing laundry, and getting one final hair trim before we leave... TOMORROW.

I can't believe it's here! Please check back here as we travel. We'll try to update a few times a week!

Europe: Three Week Itinerary

Europe Print As it turns out, Europe is a pretty big place.  After much deliberation, we've decided where we're going on our trip*. Here are the places that made the final cut.  We leave October 2nd**.

I still can't believe it's happening.










*Putting together this post made me feel like an utter brat. But I seriously can't wait.

**ANY and ALL suggestions for ANY and ALL of these places are welcome and appreciated!!