When preparing for a trip on an airplane, most parents of young children pack a goodie-bag of sorts, filled with an array of toys to occupy their traveling toddlers: action figures, dolls, coloring books, crayons, play-doh, iPads, and electronics galore.

My mom had it easy. Anytime we’d travel on an airplane, my greatest desire was a single role of scotch tape. That scotch tape kept me occupied and content for hours on end: I’d design tape bracelets for my dad, construct tape rings for my mom, and tape my tray table securely in its upright, and very locked position. While I may have had little regard for the arms my careful creations ripped the hairs off of, or the poor souls whose seatbacks were being forcefully bandaged by scotch tape, I was thrilled—and quiet. What a privilege it was to have unrestricted, free reign over the amount of tape I could use. The sky was the limit. Pun intended.

Today at 21 years old, I’m currently four hours into my flight from Los Angeles to Florence, where I will be studying abroad for the next three month.  As I sit here on the plane, I can’t stop thinking about how drastically things have changed since the days of my tape infatuation. For one thing, today the serrated edge of the scotch tape dispenser is probably considered a potential weapon, warranting an oh so awkward TSA pat-down. For another, I’ve moved far, far, FAR past my days of packing light and needing minimal sources of entertainment.

Within my backpack tucked (“crammed” might be more honest) beneath the seat in front of me, I have 2 travel books about Florence, my old Italian language textbook, a brilliant David Sedaris book, a plethora of snacks, my phone and its endless possibilities, my laptop and ITS endless possibilities, a pair of cozy socks (more for comfort than entertainment, but who can truly enjoy a good book with cold feet?), not to mention the screen on the seat-back in front of me that is loaded with seemingly unlimited movies, TV shows, and games, all available with just the touch of a finger (or a several touches, these seat-back touch screens aren’t very responsive).

Along the lines of over packing, I am embarrassed to say that despite the advice of every past study abroad student who has urged and pleaded with me to leave room in my luggage for future Florentine finds, my suitcase is filled to the brim and pushing the airline weight limit.

The forecast in Florence includes snow—a complete and utter enigma to an LA native like me. As if I were about to embark on some sort of off-the-grid Bear Grills adventure, I did my best to prepare to face the unknown elements that lay before me.

I bought a puffy down jacket at a killer Black Friday sale, a warm vest from Nordstrom Rack, and some nice long underwear from REI.  I packed a pair of well-loved boots that can (hopefully!) withstand the rain, good walking shoes, a pair of cozy slippers, some gloves, two scarves, four long sleeved shirts, a couple of sweaters, a few short sleeved tops, three pairs of pants, one dress (that I will probably never wear), and the rest of the allotted weight in additional socks.

Since my youthful taping days, the simplicity of my attention span has disappeared into thin air. However, my desire to “fix” and “mend” may have manifested in my devotion to packing an astronomical amount of medicine. I received an email from my study abroad program explaining that the medication and vitamins that we might be accustomed to in America are much more challenging to find in Italy. Naturally, I packed myself a makeshift first-aid kit that is (barely) contained in an enormous three-gallon Ziploc bag. I practically emptied out our bathroom medicine cabinet, pouring a generous supply of pills from their original bottles into more travel friendly individual sandwich sized bags, labeling in sharpie the name of each medicine along with its dosage. Then I placed each small, individual bag into the larger bag. I packed Tylenol, ibuprofen, bug spray (we were told that the mosquitos here are relentless, even in the cold), Benadryl cream, Benadryl in pill form, vitamin B, vitamin C, Echinacea, a Costco supply of Zicam (my miracle cold-be-gone medicine), Band-Aids of many shapes and sizes, drowsy and non drowsy Dramamine (for a potential Alps road trip!), a thermometer, Tums, and a lifetime supply of cough drops.

You can call me many things (maybe a hypochondriac being one?), but you can’t call me unprepared. I feel content, like all my bases are covered—but in writing this, I’m beginning to worry that once I land, the TSA will hold me in questioning for days on end without food, water, or sunlight, as my lifetime supply of pills in little bags will serve as potential evidence for my suspected role in the drug cartel….

Besides that faint, lingering worry of spending the rest of my life in an Italian jail, I am so eagerly anticipating the journey ahead of me. For the past year that I have known about this upcoming quarter-long adventure, people have constantly asked me how I feel about studying abroad in Florence. While I am undoubtedly excited to taste the pasta, walk the cobblestone, and see the laundry lining the windowpanes down the narrow streets, the type of excitement I am experiencing now is so different than the type that I am accustomed to feeling on Christmas morning, or when my name is called and my Starbucks order is ready. Unlike Christmas or my Carmel Macchiato, I just have no clue what to expect. No matter how many people recommend what Osterias to frequent, where to get the best cappuccino, or what time to climb to the top of the Duomo, Italy has just felt so distant and out of reach.

Something happened this morning, a random, chance encountering, that seemed to ignite a depth and fervor to the enthusiasm that I have been yearning to feel. My mom, dad, brother, and I decided to take our puppy on one last walk all together around our favorite bluff overlooking the ocean, before my 3:00 pm departure from LAX. With just a few hours until takeoff, I was nervous for the long flight ahead of me, and overwhelmed with emotion surrounding my imminent journey. Besides the four of us (and puppy makes 5), this particular walk was especially quiet and the streets were fairly empty. The only person we passed by was an older woman wearing a conservative, long black dress, tights, and shiny black loafers. As I crossed paths with the woman, I grinned and said, “hello”. Her face lit up with the most enormous smile, and with such incredible warmth, she replied, “buongiorno!”

If that’s not an omen for a wonderful Italian adventure filled with kind and charming people, I don’t know what is.

Willa Giffin studdied abroad in Florence, Italy, in Winter 2017: