Birthdays. For a lot of people this is the most special day of the year, filled with elaborate plans and huge celebration. Personally, I get a bit overwhelmed by it all. All of the planning, RSVP’s, trying to decide what to do, being expected to do something. It all gets a little tedious. Don’t get me wrong, I love to celebrate the day I was born, but elaborate parties are not my thing.
Perhaps that’s one reason why I like celebrating my birthdays abroad. First of all, it is kind of fun to say that your nineteenth birthday was in Florence, Italy and your twenty-first birthday was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. But when you’re abroad, everything happens so spontaneously and that is what I love about it. There’s no need for elaborate plans, weeks building up to the big day, none of that. Instead, there’s a bunch of new friends and quick decisions. My past birthdays abroad have gone something like this:
A balmy evening in Florence, three of us were sitting at a plastic table, on plastic chairs, after finishing dinner. After the ATM eating up $400 and not giving it back, I was in low spirits. My friends, the gems that they are, surprised me with a one euro cake from the shop beneath the campsite “restaurant” and fashioned a lighter into a candle. There we sat, giggling at the sight of my birthday cake as I blew out the lighter flame.
With a party in mind the three of us made our way from our campsite into the city, trying to find ourselves a discotecca to celebrate despite having to catch a train the next morning at an ungodly hour. As we walked, we realized that discotecca’s don’t open until much later than bars do back home and, to top it off, the rain began to pour down yet again. To our very good fortune, none other than a gelato shop had materialized across the street to provide shelter from the rain.
What we had believed would be a night of dancing had turned into a night of gelato tasting and exploring Florence by night. That evening, I flicked a creepy-crawly off of my pillow and we routinely tucked ourselves in as tight as possible to prevent more creepy-crawlies finding their way inside our blankets. When I woke up it was my first day as a nineteen year old and it began by moving as quickly as we could to catch our train as the sun came up.
In and out of temples, up and down side roads, pedicures, eating food from street stalls and a daily shake (or three) from Tip in Somphet Market. That was Chiang Mai by day. Sitting outside at A Little Bird Guesthouse, comfy mats under our bottoms, Chang in hand, and a group of new friends. All of us sitting in a circle, requesting songs to the man playing the guitar and all of us passionately singing along. As the evening got later and people tried to sleep, we moved on to a bar called Zoe’s, just around the corner.
To my surprise, two Irish girls I had the pleasure of meeting arrived a little later, surprising me with a makeshift cake of mini sponge cakes all in a circle and a pile of m&ms in the center and they sang happy birthday, with everyone in our section of the bar joining in. That was Chiang Mai for my birthday. After a long night of dancing and having a lot of fun with a man from Oxford, it was morning. With only two hours of sleep, I spent my first day as a twenty-one year old hopping in a tuk-tuk with the two Irish girls, arriving at a posh guesthouse with a massive pool. It was there that I spent my birthday day, acting like teenagers and cooling ourselves from the mid-day Thailand heat.
It is these birthday abroad that I remember the most, though I’m not sure why. Maybe for the spontaneous, and often hilarious, events that ensued, or maybe simply just because it was in a far-away place. With my twenty-second birthday fast approaching, the two nights I shared with you keep popping back into my head. Celebrating birthday abroad will always be something that I enjoy doing, but sometimes it’s nice to spend it at home with the people that you love and this year, I couldn’t be happier to do just that.