Traveling opens the mind, the heart, and the soul to an endless amount of possibility, culture, love, and wonder.
I was lucky when I was young. My mom and dad drove me all over the country to explore what the United States has to offer. I experienced the Rocky Mountains, the Smokey Mountains, Mount Rushmore, Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, and several beaches before high school (probably even junior high). I was able to see the beautiful landscape and wildlife spending days driving through Yellowstone National Park and waited for Old Faithful to show its’ glory. I watched the rushing water of Niagara Falls flow over the taunting edge. In 5th grade they put me and my best friend on a plane by ourselves to fly to Washington D.C. to visit my friend’s aunt. Each vacation, they allowed me to take a friend so
I would have someone to entertain me they could experience all of the wonders of our country, too.
I. Was. Lucky.
I didn’t appreciate the meaning of traveling then. First grade me had no idea the magnitude of the suitcase displays on Ellis Island or how that one picture I snapped that had the World Trade Center in it would someday be treasured. I was unaware that the beautiful memories of Yellowstone that I tried to rush through would never be the same due to devastating fires. I didn’t understand that not everybody had the opportunity to see more than what was in their backyard. I also didn’t understand that each opportunity to travel somewhere new changes you in some way.
I understand now. To my mom and dad: THANK YOU.
Now, in my adulthood, I take the chance to travel any time that I can. I’m lucky enough to have a partner that enjoys and craves new experiences as much as I do. Last year, I took my first trip abroad and spent three and a half weeks traveling around Europe. Again, my mom (and brother) was with me for the first part of that first trip. This time, I appreciated it so much more than I did 15 years ago. We emerged ourselves in Italian culture. We drank and ate all of the Italian foods (too much pasta…way too much pasta). We broke a Nespresso machine because all we wanted was a full cup of coffee and not a shot of espresso. We dressed my brother in tight European clothes because his suitcase was lost. We found our way through train stations to get to Venice. We navigated Italian roads in a rental car to get to Tuscany. We spoke our awful Italian and loved every minute of it. To be honest, though, I still took that for granted. Not everyone has the opportunity to share extravagant journeys with their family. I realize that now.
I bid auf wiedersehen and addio to my mom and brother after a few days in Switzerland and set off to enjoy Paris, Bruges, Amsterdam, and London with my boyfriend.
We boarded trains and planes and buses. We ate amazing food and got lost more times than we can count. We spoke broken French in Paris and got mistaken for being fluent. We sat at the foot of the Eiffel Tower with wine and watched it sparkle through the night sky. We biked through Amsterdam in crazy bike lanes not meant for mediocre American cyclists. We hiked with all of our luggage through Bruges to our flat in a rain storm because the bus couldn’t take us across a river. We stood with the futbol fans watching the Emirates Cup friendly at the Emirates Stadium in London. We ate McDonald’s in every country to see what was different (Ok…I can’t let go of all of my American-ness).
Then I took a leap of faith and spent a day in Reykjavik, Iceland by myself.
The experiences I enjoyed are moments that will forever be cherished and engraved in my mind.
I’m from a small town. As in…everyone knows everyone, your best friend dates your ex-boyfriend frequently, and you’ve been friends with your friends since you were 3…small. A lot of people don’t see the inside of an airplane until adulthood and some don’t make it across the state line. Exotic vacations are considered all-inclusive resorts to Cancun. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love all-inclusive vacations to a beach, but you don’t get to experience the culture and the community of the country you’re traveling to.
For a small town bred girl like myself to spend a day in Iceland solo…it was a thrilling and emotional moment for me.
I remember walking through the volcanic rock taking in all of the breathtaking and unfamiliar landscape. I was several hours away from boarding a plane back to Chicago and I just cried. I’d been traveling through Europe for close to a month. I was tackling a foreign country (with a difficult language and English accent to boot) solo. I was so proud of myself. I was so overwhelmed with all of the opportunities I was able to experience in such a short time. I was exhausted. I felt an electric pulse from a natural high like no other. I was sad because it was over. I was happy to return home to my comfortable surroundings. The anxiety, adrenaline, and fear of my day navigating through sites alone was starting to wear off. I was grateful. The mix of emotions I felt in that exact moment is almost indescribable. I don’t know if that feeling will return, but I stopped and took in every feeling, emotion, and thought I was experiencing.
Every time you travel somewhere new, you leave a piece of your heart there and take a piece of their life back with you.
At the risk of sounding cliche, that single moment was life changing.
I have barely scratched the surface of this planet and I can’t wait to continue exploring.
Traveling has taught me to let go of all preconceived notions I have of other cultures. I love my country, but we’re a little near-sighted.
As a picky eater, I’ve learned to eat what is in front of me because I may not get the chance to try it again.
I’ve learned to wear comfortable shoes because your feet won’t be the same as the were in the beginning of your trip.
It’s taught me to learn simple phrases in native languages to show the locals you’re trying (regardless of how bad it is).
It’s taught me to learn about history and why we marvel at stone buildings.
I have been given new daydreaming material and how not to think any trip or adventure is to big or small.
I have learned to brush off the (sometimes snarky) comments of, “Wow, you’re so lucky. You can afford to travel.” No, I work my butt off with an extra job so I can save to travel.
I have learned how to budget money and give up doing things like going out every weekend. I have learned to say, “No, sorry – I’m saving for my next trip.”
I understand how pieces of your heart can be scattered in so many different places and how pieces of each destination make their way into your home.
I’ve learned (probably too late) to thank my parents for giving me opportunities when I was younger that make me crave adventure today.