Birthdays while travelling

Four years. Four birthdays. Four celebrations.

Of my 28 birthdays, I’ve spent four abroad and it’s been great. It’s interesting to celebrate in other countries, with new friends and in foreign languages.

Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Italy have all hosted my birthday celebrations (Italy twice) and they been as different as you could expect.


When I turned 21, I was unhappily working in Switzerland as an au pair. It was probably the least exciting 21st birthday an American can have since you can drink as soon as you can say enough words to properly order a beer in Europe (ok, not really true – drinking age is generally 18 for spirits and 16 for other alcoholic beverages).

A view of the Swiss Alps on my birthday in Switzerland

I met up with some friends in Bern for a drink and had a relatively relaxed night. Exciting stuff, right? Nope, just a normal night out. We all had to work the next day, so it was an early night for us.

It wasn’t a ‘true’ American 21st birthday until I had my first legal drink on American soil a few weeks later. I was invited along with other au pairs in Bern to the American Embassy where the marines were having a party. Since the embassy was technically American soil, I had my first legal drink there, missed the last moonliner (night) bus, walked 20 minutes back home and fell asleep in my bed in Switzerland. Quite a strange first legal drink on American soil, but that was what it was for me.

United Kingdom

Two months into my 20-month European trip, I celebrated my 25th in London. When I left Switzerland at the tender age of 21, I made it my goal to return to Europe before I turned 25. I arrived just two months before my self-imposed deadline, so this was an exciting birthday for me.

Big Ben for my birthday in London

I met up with other CouchSurfers at a weekly games night where we brought decorations and sweets to make it special for my birthday. My CouchSurfing host graciously treated me to a black cab home.

Just after midnight on the way home, I noticed with the time zone change, it was my birth-minute.

It was then that I realized I actually had two birthdays. I was born at 4.30p on a Friday in Washington State, USA. By that time, it was already 12.30a on Saturday in the UK and 1.30a in Western Europe. So, while Friday was my American birthday, Saturday was my European (and every other country in timezones east of the UK) birthday! So, obviously I get to celebrate twice. Any excuse for a little party, right?

Well, the next day was another regularly scheduled CouchSurfing meeting, so I decided that was a celebration for me, too.

Two birthday celebrations was a little excessive, but since I have a summer birthday and most of my friends were gone on holiday when I was younger, I didn’t always get a party, so I think this logic is just making up for those years.

Italy – take one

My 26th birthday was celebrated in Italy. The family I was au pairing for didn’t seem too keen on celebrating it – my birthday dinner kept getting pushed back, forgotten and eventually cancelled because it was too late for them to celebrate my birthday – so I asked for an extra day off to celebrate with some friends in Padova, near Venice.

The Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of travellers, to celebrate my birthday in Italy

I spent most of my American birthday on trains but made it to Padova in time to celebrate with my CouchSurfing friends, one of which was moving to the San Francisco the following week, so it was a joint birthday/going away party.

My European birthday was spent shopping. A great way to spend a birthday in Italy.

Tiramisù birthday cake in Italy

Italy – take two

My 27th birthday fell on a day I was teaching English in Italy. A hundred Italian kids singing ‘Tanti auguri a te’ to me (the Italian ‘Happy Birthday’ song) was great. After hearing ‘tanti auguri’ so many times that day, I realised I had been mistaking ‘auguri’ (good luck) for ‘anguria’ (watermelon). The birthday wishes made more sense as ‘much luck to you’ than ‘many watermelons to you’. Although I do like watermelon….

Italian tiramisù birthday cake with my host family in Milan

I was greeted at my host family’s home with a delicious tiramisù cake.

Birthday celebrations abroad are definitely unique and memorable. Thanks to everyone who has celebrated with me.

You can find more of my European adventures here.

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