Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Travel Bug.

I'll admit: I'm mildly disappointed.

It's only August, but 2018 has not exactly been the year I was hoping for. I remember on New Year's Eve, thinking ahead to everything I wanted to happen this year: personal life, professional life, and quite frankly Navy life. I thought I'd be leaving in June or July for OCS, and there was an excitement of not knowing what lay beyond that. And here, 8 months later, none of that has come to fruition. I'm so incredibly thankful for all of the opportunities that have come in place of those things, of course, but life just has a funny way of dealing cards sometimes. 

But I think beyond my expectations for this year, my biggest disappointment is that I haven't found the time to travel. In 2014, I spent a summer abroad in Ireland and have gone abroad every year since. 2015, I graduated from college and went to visit friends of mine from that summer abroad. 2016, I went to Greece and Germany to meet my relatives and explore my family's history. 2017, I went to Berlin for the first time and stayed with friends I'd met in Greece the year before. And here we are in 2018, and I haven't left the United States. My skin is itching! People seem shocked when they realize that each of those trips were done alone. Sure, I stayed with other interns in Ireland and technically I was visiting friends and family on other occasions (though I did Couchsurf and AirBNB throughout Greece...a very neat experience you can read about in my book! One day!), but the hike from the US to Europe was done by me, myself, and I. And I don't think I'd have it any other way.
 (Chania, Greece)
(Athens, Greece)
There are some other big things coming in the next few months that I will be excited to share, but as of right now it doesn't seem like travel is in the cards for 2018. I was thinking of visiting my old college roommate in Guatemala in a few months, but funny enough money doesn't grow on trees (how about that?). And with moving and my car situation and a few other things coming, it doesn't look like that trip will work out. I'll keep my fingers crossed. SO. What's a girl who loves to travel to do when she can't travel and is about to break her streak? 

She's going to share it.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing my past travels with you to "live vicariously" through my past self. I did blog throughout my time in Ireland, and had tried to re-start the blog on another occasion, including past adventures, but unfortunately those memories were lost when I deleted those blogs. Fortunately, I kept all of my journals. And then there's that book sitting here waiting to be published. So...I'm going to share with you. Before I get into each year's adventure, I wanted to just write a blog about travel and why I love it. It isn't often that I get to just sit down and ramble about something I am so deeply passionate about, so if you're already thinking "oh boy, here we go", you better settle in. I'm going to kick all of this off with a quote from the late Anthony Bourdain (may your soul rest in peace):

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you - it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you… Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” 
- Anthony Bourdain

The first time I ever crossed the ocean - when I traveled to France in high school - my eyes were opened to so many things. I never experienced “culture shock” in the general sense or struggled with any kind of severe language barrier (I'm fluent in French), but there were definitely things I found remarkable that I couldn’t imagine existing in America. And it went well beyond the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Seine. The other American students and I spent a day with our pen pals in their school, where we learned that everyone was required to take both English and another foreign language. In America we only need two years of one foreign language. Groups of students would gather outside to smoke, which was forbidden at my high school. And perhaps most surprising of all was the food in their cafeteria: all “bio” (organic) and not a Bosco stick in sight. Later, we took the m├ętro, and had our first experience with busy public transportation, something most of us had never experienced in America. (Public transportation doesn’t exist in Michigan. After all, a huge part of its economy depends on the automotive industry.) 
(Paris, France)
(Paris-Montmartre, France)
All of these things, along with the nightly home-cooked, traditional meals and three-hour-long dinner conversations I had with my pen pal and her family amounted to a 10-day experience I would never forget. It was the first time I realized the importance of traveling: the first time I felt truly changed by it. I wanted to learn more about my country’s own history after visiting so many beautiful, historic places in northern France. I wanted to go out and try new things, visit new restaurants, and even adopt some of the habits I’d noticed during my trip. I wrote more, I read more, and I started having an occasional ‘afternoon coffee’ and a small treat, just as I had in France. I remember returning home from that trip wanting to go back as soon as possible: the ‘travel bug’ had bitten.

That sensation of change that I felt after just 10 days in France was nothing compared to how I felt after my summer in Dublin. I learned more that summer - about myself, about interacting with people of other cultures - than I did in any communications class I had in college. My internship was in a small office (nestled in the back of an antique shop) and my coworkers were from countries all over Europe. There were occasional language barriers of course, but the stories and customs we shared over lunch were eye-opening. The internship required me to spend a huge amount of time putting myself in uncomfortable situations. I wasn’t used to the way my boss conducted business, I’d never had a desk job requiring near constant email communication, and even going out with other interns - a group of people I wasn’t completely familiar with - took some getting used to. On one occasion, I even had my first professional conversation on the phone in a foreign language (French). It was my proudest moment of the summer. I experienced my first happy hour with coworkers, and even learned how difficult it could be to do business with so many countries.
 ("Glendalough" - Valley of the Two Lakes, Ireland)
(River Liffey, Dublin)
When I returned to the United States and worked my way through another school year, it wasn't long before I started planning my next trip. Some of the other interns and I had kept in touch since the summer in Dublin, so when I graduated college I decided to go back to visit them. I learned that I could have an incredible work ethic when I was properly motivated, and picked up so many extra shifts at my part-time job that management switched me to ‘full time’ (while still taking a full load of classes). Finally, a few days after graduation, I went back to Germany to visit one of the Dublin interns and her family. I was there for just six days, and from the time I arrived to the time I left, we’d transformed from simply being former coworkers to being as close as sisters. We still Skype, and I consider her to be one of my best friends. After I celebrated New Years’ with her (on the top of a mountain in the Alps), I headed to Austria to visit another intern friend and her family. We also grew quite close, and she managed to get me outside of my comfort zone - way outside of my comfort zone - taking me to different events around Salzburg. In November. We spent half of the time I was there absolutely freezing (or maybe that was just me), but it was still an unforgettable experience. 
 (Bavaria, Germany)
(Innsbruck, Austria - New Year's Eve 2015)
(Somewhere in the Alps, Austria)
(Bbischofshofen, Austria)
I had thought the trip to France was a ‘once in a lifetime’ adventure. Everyone had told me so. And then the internship in Dublin, another ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. And then I started planning my post-grad trip back to Europe and had a phenomenal two weeks in Germany and Austria. I didn’t want any of these to be ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences: I wanted to make friends there and truly invest in becoming a part of the culture. It wasn’t just me wanting to go ‘see cool places’ and ‘do new things’: I wanted to be fully immersed and become a "woman of the world". I had every intention of returning each time I came back to the United States. So it was pure passion and determination that then took me back to Germany and Greece in 2016, and last year again to Germany for 10 days in Berlin. 

It goes without saying that travel is one of the most challenging things someone can do. Beyond the planning, the coordinating, and of course coming up with the money to actually be able to travel, it can be quite difficult to adjust. For me, some of the most difficult things I had to adjust to were those outside of my control. They were things like seeing the massive amount of homeless individuals on the streets of Dublin and Athens, and hearing how rude some English-speakers were to shop owners or to the wait staff in restaurants. I was even embarrassed at times. But by far the most difficult adjustment I had to make in my past experiences as a traveler was accepting just that: the fact that I was just traveling. I wasn’t permanently staying and therefore couldn’t very well plant roots of any kind. I realized how difficult it was to leave friends in foreign countries. To this day, I still keep in touch with and consider my friends in Germany and Greece to be some of the best I’ve ever had. Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to visit them in subsequent trips and each time, leaving becomes more and more difficult.

As Anthony Bourdain said, “It (travel) leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body.” I couldn’t agree more. I’ve only been to six countries outside of the United States (Ireland, Germany, France, Austria, Greece, Canada), and can say with confidence that my mindset has completely changed since the moment I boarded my first flight. The cultural differences and history of each country are unlike anything I’ve ever come across in the United States. Even in a textbook, it’s hard to fully understand the impact of history and understand the culture just by reading about it. Spending time in those foreign countries - being the foreigner - is a completely different experience. It’s like being a child. Everything is new, everything is confusing (at first), and sometimes nothing is understandable. The first time I ordered coffee at a cafe in France, I managed to order straight espresso instead of coffee. The first time I ever crossed the street in Dublin (I even waited for the crosswalk sign), I almost got hit by a car. And then that first time I went to the bathroom in a restaurant in Greece and realized they put their used toilet paper in a wastebasket next to the toilet rather than flushing it down the pipes, I was just disgusted. But to them, that’s standard protocol. And seeing the actual remains of the Berlin wall last November, feeling the looming memories from so many years ago...history is alive and well everywhere if you just stop and acknowledge it.
(Athens, Greece)
Despite the frustration when plans didn't go so smoothly, despite the exhausting layovers and all of the painful blisters from walking through foreign cities, my times abroad are experiences I will never forget. Everything that has happened abroad has made me a stronger person - a more adventurous person - than I could have ever become otherwise. As for what I left behind, I may never know. Yet if it’s anything like what I took away from my experience, then I know that it was good. 

Travel can be uncomfortable and heartbreaking, and at times is definitely not so pretty. In each new voyage to the unknown, there are inevitable highs and lows. There are always lessons to be learned. But travel can also be one of the most wonderful, life-changing things in the world: anywhere in the world.

Next year, for sure.

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