Getting back to the States was more difficult than getting to London in the first place...except for the packing.
If you ever go on a trip somewhere where you will probably buy souvenirs and gifts for the people you like, then I absolutely recommend taking items you know you don't want anymore or can just live without. For example, I took two pairs of shoes that are comfortable to walk in, but I had already replaced. Neither pair made it home, lightening my load and giving me space for other things. Also if you don't mind parting with toiletries that you take with you, like shampoo or toothpaste, that can also help, especially with the weight.
The morning started at 4:30 when the Gatwick Gang (Theresa, Vanessa, Tiffanie and I) met in front of Bedford 15. My left arm still hurts from carrying my suitcase down four flights of stairs. Slow and steady certainly worked in that situation--it kept me from falling on my face. We caught the night bus and arrived at Victoria station by a bit after 5am and purchased our tickets. Unfortunately, we missed the train because the board that's supposed to provide passengers with information flashed "delayed" for a few minutes, and told us the platform number in just enough time for us to see the doors close and the train pull away. One man at the station was quite nice to us when he realized there was a mistake elsewhere that caused us to miss the train and made sure we got on the next one out. At 6:05am we pulled away from the station.
We all hoped this would be our only snafu of the day, but things didn't run exactly smoothly. When I arrived for check-in, the wait for dropping off my checked bag was pretty ridiculous. There were only two people working the counter, and one of them was having trouble with a few girls who had six bags between them. The girls didn't weigh their cases before getting to the airport and at the counter they were trying to distribute weight among their many bags. Luckily someone finally pulled them aside to give them time to straighten things out and keep the line moving. I had no problem checking my bag.
I also have to interject here, that (so far) I prefer overseas pat-downs to the ones I get in the states. They don't treat it like they're trying really hard to not molest me, I'm just supposed to understand its part of their job, which I do. If you've never been patted down in the states, they first have to give a speech about why they are doing it, where they are going to touch you, and how they are going to touch you in certain areas. They also wear gloves as if everyone they touch is a leper. When I left London (both to visit Paris and return to the states), they simply asked me to put my arms up and completed the procedure in a lot less time than I've ever had at home.
I met Theresa on the other side of security where we checked in at the gate and boarded the plane. As the plane accelerated for take off I couldn't help but whisper "goodbye London." I was a little surprised when I teared up though. I loved this trip and made some fantastic new friends. Even though I was looking forward to heading home to the people I love, I didn't want to leave the new ones behind.
Because the United States has more stringent security measures than other countries, returning means going through the procedures in your departure country as well as in the US. So along with going through border control, I had to claim my bag, go through customs, re-check my bag (luckily I could just drop it off), and go through security a second time. This process takes at least an hour and a half to complete. Mine and Theresa's layover was just two hours. As we speed walked our way from the international terminal to Terminal A at the Atlanta airport, I was praising the last three weeks as training for such an event. When we arrived at the gate, the ticket agent commented, "We weren't sure you were going to make it."
Note to future travelers: even if Delta (or another airline) offers you an international flight with a two hour layover between connecting flights, it would be wise to choose one with a bit longer of a layover. (Or be smart like Tiffanie and fly Virgin, which goes directly from Orlando to London.)
It's been strange being home. I wasn't gone long enough for much to change or to forget anything about my home so it makes it feel like my trip was a bit of a dream. I'm incredibly glad it wasn't, and that I have this blog. I can't provide a complete list of what I learned on this trip, but I know it expands beyond elements of Web 2.0. I'll discover everything as I go about my daily routine, but I hope beyond hope that I never lose what I learned in London and the people I found there.
One thing I will not miss: all the stairs!!