We’ll Always Have Copenhagen

from my “revisiting” series….

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to travel once this pandemic is behind us. Not just where I want to go, but also how I can be a more conscientious traveler. I was a convert to sustainable travel before 2020 grounded us all, but truthfully, while I held my head high as I filled up my reusable water bottle at the airport, I wasn’t really walking the the walk considering that I had no intention to stop flying. Now, of course, it’s much easier for me to walk the walk since I’m not going anywhere. But I wonder, a year or two from now, will I be able to reign in my carbon footprint? Or will the temptation to go, go, go be too strong? I’d like to think I’ll be responsible, but then I remember how I ended up in Copenhagen.

I went to Copenhagen on a whim. Not on a whim from the U.S., fortunately, but on a whim from Stockholm. I was in Sweden for the first time, visiting a friend I had made when we were both traveling in Scotland. One Saturday night, we took a break from the dance floor for a drink. As I waited for him, I sat down and mindlessly opened my Instagram app. When he returned, he saw that I was lingering on a picture of the famous Nyhavn waterfront in Copenhagen. He told me that it was only a one-hour flight from Stockholm to Copenhagen. He pulled out his phone and found a Monday morning flight. Then he saw that there were only two seats available on the last return flight Monday evening. While sipping our drinks at 2 a.m., we booked the flight for a day-trip to Copenhagen.

It would have been far more responsible to drive or take the train to Copenhagen. But I didn’t have time. I was flying back to the U.S. on Wednesday, so this one-day excursion par avion was my only opportunity to see Copenhagen for the foreseeable future. And my carbon footprint to fly from Stockholm to Copenhagen was certainly less than it would be if I flew from the U.S, to Copenhagen, right? And really, the plane was going with or without me on it. I would actually have less of a carbon footprint on that flight than if I added another car to the road, right? Right?

The fact is, I’ve carried some guilt over my spontaneous, Alexis Rose-like behavior (Schitt’s Creek, anyone?). But on the other hand, I had such a wonderful, memorable time in Copenhagen. We arrived early in the morning and got to Nyhavn before the tourist rush. The streets were quiet as cafes were still receiving their deliveries and setting up chairs outside. My friend and I took a ton of pictures before going in search of breakfast. As we ate, the crowds emerged, and we were grateful to have had the place to ourselves for an hour.

We spent the day taking an abbreviated tour of the city. Making our way to the Little Mermaid statue, we ran into a Santa Claus convention. It was such an unexpected and bizarre experience, especially for the middle of July. I instantly knew that we would never forget it. When our 4 a.m. wake-up finally caught up with us and our energy began to drop, we took a boat tour of the city then rejuvenated with a waterside lunch. We ended the day with a visit to the Carlsberg Distillery, where I fell in love with a beer that was only sold in Denmark. My heart ached a little as I said goodbye, knowing that I couldn’t take the bottle on the plane with me.

We flew back to Sweden Monday night and ended up eating dinner at the Stockholm airport because it was getting so late. Tuesday turned out to be a perfect last day in Sweden, with a ferry ride along the archipelago and a sunset stroll. I appreciated it all the more because I had given up a day in Sweden in order to have that day in Copenhagen. My friend told me that our day-trip was one of the craziest and most enjoyable things he had ever done. We still randomly send each other funny pictures from that Santa Claus convention.

So, while I do feel a tinge of guilt, I also have no regrets about Copenhagen. At the time, I wasn’t sure when I’d ever get the chance to go back. And writing this in the second half of 2020, the likelihood seems even more remote. Whenever I can travel again, I’m going someplace I haven’t been to before. I’m so glad I took advantage of the opportunity then. It came at a point my life when I had learned through circumstance that sometimes you only get one opportunity.

Most of my memorable trips have come from seizing an opportunity. When another friend invited me to join her in Angkor Wat, my first impulse was to decline because it would only be for a week. I always imagined taking a few weeks or more to explore Southeast Asia, or at some point in my life taking a large chunk of time to stop working and travel. My mother told me that while this was a nice idea, the odds were not in my favor and so I should take advantage of the opportunity to see Angkor Wat with a friend. And my mom was right. While I only had one week there, it was amazing. I have no regrets. Would I like to see more of Southeast Asia? Of course. And maybe someday I will. But if it never happens, at least I can say I had this one incredible trip.

I have taken advantage of similar opportunities, all places where I hope to return and spend more time. But what is that saying? Better to have spent one day somewhere than to have spent no time at all? If nobody said it, then I’m saying it. And yet, is this a responsible way to travel? I’m flight-shaming myself over a one-day trip to Copenhagen, but it was a day I will always remember. I learned that the most popular Danish in Denmark was not at all what I would have guessed. I learned about the controversial hippie commune of Freetown Christiania that took hold in a section of the city. I learned about the best beer in the world, *probably*. I learned that Nyhavn is just as amazing as it looks on Instagram, something that is not always guaranteed. It was all more than I’ve ever done on a Monday in my life.

I certainly hope to have more time to travel when things get better. Don’t we all? But even if I’m unable to travel for weeks at a time, I will still take advantage of any opportunity I get to go somewhere. But I will travel with intention and be a grateful traveler.

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