Can you believe it? It has been 10 years since my first adventure! There have been so many places, cultures, cuisine, languages, and lessons learned.
On July 10, 2007 I embarked on my first plane ride (that I can remember) for my very first international journey. I remember this date because my aunt’s birthday is July 11 and I would be crossing the International Date Line around midnight when flying from LA to Fiji, meaning I would leave July 10th behind and enter Fiji on July 12th, completely skipping the 11th that year. Apparently my first international adventure would also include my first (but not last) experience time traveling.
I had been aching to travel since I first received a letter from People to People in 10th grade. People to people is a travel abroad program for students who are interested in an enhanced cultural understanding, offering many opportunities to interact with people and students in other countries. A year later, I had convinced my parents to pay for half if I paid the other half with my babysitting money. At the time, I thought of the travel encounter as a “once in a life time experience” that I would never get to have again. Never did I think that this trip would have such a lasting influence on my life (maybe if my parents had known that it would have such an impact, they never would have sent me!).
But from the moment I returned from the People to People exchange, all I could think about was my next trip.
Two years later I went to spend 3 weeks of summer vacation in Germany visiting an exchange student friend and her family. We took day trips around the country and overnight bus trips to Vienna, Prague, and Venice.
Fast forward two more years, I spent spring break visiting a friend studying abroad in Ireland followed by a 2-month summer study abroad program in Spain. I had the travel bug and it was insatiable.
Then my feet became itchier and I moved to Germany. It was just one year at first, working as an English teaching assistant in German schools before I returned to the States. I moved back to Germany two years later, and now it’s been two more years – all the while traveling to new and exciting places every free moment I have.
Travel has not only allowed me to see and learn about many places and peoples, but it has also taught me a lot about myself. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:
1. I can do this. Australia, New Zealand, Fiji 2007. This adventure taught me that it is possible to travel! I learned that it’s not just something I’ll only ever dream about, read about, or see on TV and in movies, but that it can be a real thing that I can experience. It’s something I can make happen. This trip with People to People was my introduction to travel – to flying internationally, using various currency, experiencing life on the left side of the road, and making friends with strangers.
2. I can do this in another language. Germany 2009. OK, in comparison to my German skills now, I definitely did not speak German when I first came to Germany in 2009. But my amazing exchange student friend, Jenn, and her mom, Monika, were so patient with me and spoke to me in simple German the whole time. They even more patiently listened to me try to say things in broken German – helping me develop my own language skills along the way. Traveling with Jenn was fantastic, because she knew how to get around and showed me how to do it too. Freshly 18 and impressed by Jenn’s confidence, independence, and seeming ease with traveling convinced me that it was possible for me to travel on my own too!
3. I can do this in a language I don’t even speak. Seville, Spain 2011. Despite having studied German, I decided I wanted to study abroad in Spain because I needed to learn Spanish. So I signed up for an intensive Spanish-only summer program. My classes were in Spanish and my host family didn’t speak English. Necessity is the mother of invention…or language learning. Probably the best and easiest way to learn a language is when you just plain have to!
4. I can do this myself. Zaragoza, Spain 2011. I had had some solo experiences already in Spain, but it was this solo traveling experience that really illuminated the joys of traveling independently. The second day in Zaragoza I woke up to awfully sore legs from walking 12 hours non-stop the previous day. Why did I walk so long? (No, I wasn’t the hiking fanatic I currently am) It was because I couldn’t make a single decision! Did I want to eat? Was I hungry? What should I eat? Should I eat now? Should I visit that museum? Is it OK if I sit on this bench for a while? For how long should I sit here? Where should I go next? I was not prepared for the sheer amount of decisions needed to be made while traveling by myself. But I soon came to realize that it wasn’t that I HAVE to make all the decisions but that I GET to make all the decisions. After I realized I could do whatever I wanted, regardless of what it was, the decision-making got easier. I’ve grown to absolutely love solo travel and getting to decide exactly whatever it is I will do the whole time 🙂
5. I can do this spontaneously. Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Hungary 2012. Usually, I think of myself as having a type-A personality – very organized, over-planned, etc. This adventure was 3 weeks long and the only thing my best friend, Michael, and I had booked were two nights for Christmas in Bucharest and 2 nights at New Year’s in Budapest. We had a rough outline of where we planned to go, but nothing else booked. I never thought I could travel with such little planning, but this trip turned out to be so much fun! We fell in love with Brashov, Romania and stayed 4 nights instead of 2. We couldn’t figure out how to get from Novi Sad, Serbia to some city in Romania, so we went to Timisoara instead. I have so many incredible memories from this trip. From this point on, I always leave room for spontaneity when forming my adventures.
I’ve learned these and so many more lessons along the way. Some of these lessons I’ve had to learn multiple times. I’m still working on learning the lesson of cheap late-night transportation… (I’d like to hear from anyone else about this…I end up sleeping in the airport/train station/bus to save a few dollars, but I’m not so convinced that it’s always worth it!).
Mostly travel has taught me about a lot of the things that I CAN do. When going to a place on your own where you know nobody, you really have to rely on yourself or have faith in strangers, both of which have amazing outcomes. You either learn how much you’re capable of or about the incredible altruism of people you don’t even know.
The most important thing I’ve learned is that there is everywhere has something worth visiting – be it the nature, the architecture, the people, the food, the culture, the art, the history. This is what continues to drive my curiosity and my hunger to travel endlessly. I look forward to the next 10 years of travel. Hopefully I’ll see you as I Chris-Cross the World! 🙂