I always wanted to travel.
It got to the point where it was painful to be reminded of far off lands and embarrassing to respond to questions about where I had been because I was so unhappy with how few places were in the response. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to go. I wanted it so bad I even tried to move out of the country.
Moving to San Diego was supposed to be a temporary stop during my first attempt, but I was so happy there, it turned into seven years. The second time I let cold feet influence me into taking a vacation-style trip instead of going after my dream of becoming an expatriate. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like now if I had stuck to my guns.
I do have a little regret, but it’s difficult to be too hard on myself. After all, it was that first trip, regardless of what it was made of, that got me started.
“I’m going to Europe,” I told my friend as we watched the sunset from the cement divider that separated the beach from the boardwalk.
“I’ll go with you,” she responded.
Many friends said they’d go with, but none had ever come through. By the time I heard it from her, there had been too many letdowns and botched trips due to planning around others to take it seriously. It had been five years since my last attempt to leave and the need had finally become greater than the fear. For once, I was relying on myself instead of hoping she was the real deal and ready to stand on my own two feet instead of using her as a crutch.
I didn’t start taking her seriously until she was ready to put down a deposit on one of the trips she had found during her research. Both of us were huge fans of the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, so she brought up the idea of hitting Italy. My original plan was to take a certain amount of money to Barcelona and do everything I could to scout out work and a place. It wasn’t according to my plan, but the idea sounded good. It’s easy to dream when I didn’t believed she’d come through and besides — how could I say no to Italy?
It was too late by the time that I realized that she was serious and I had let this trip turn into her dream instead of mine. Instead of focusing on life and the people of Spain, we were joining an Australian tour group that was about to take us from London through mostly big cities and tourist spots in France, Italy and Greece. The trip only spent one day in Barcelona.
So I went ahead and accepted that fate had other plans for me. I had only been going on a feeling anyway, and it was much easier to believe in destiny and God’s Plan than to admit than my fear had ended up sabotaging the trip once again. After all, San Diego had taught me that the greatest happiness was sometimes found by venturing down an unintended road once before. Why not this time, too?
I was finally traveling. No matter what happened to my original plans, as long as I was headed off to different countries there was little that could have dampened my spirits about that. It was real and my heart was beating out of my chest. The trip was quickly paid for and finally upon us. The concept was incredibly large to grasp and I was terrified, but once that plane took off, there was no turning back.
I can’t say I had a good time. I can’t say I had a bad time either. What I can say that it that it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had the honor to partake in and yes, it was completely life-changing.
One of the first things I learned was that the experience of travel is rarely what we expect.
As a people person, I thought I’d be able to focus on the locals and take in their culture. Instead, I was surrounded with Australian twenty year olds who wanted to party and possibly take in a little info about where they were as a side note. There was also a very sweet Japanese model that was always smiling, talking and holding up a peace sign, friendly Canadians, a hand-full of other Americans and some New Zealanders that put their country on my list of places I just have to go. These were the cultures I was exposed to.
I also learned the hard way that you never know how your body will react. On our first night, two pints and some fish and chips mixed with jetlag woke me up in London with a splitting hangover at 3 AM. I also had my first experience with B.O. and two days later, felt the beginning of intense stomach pains in the Louvre. I didn’t know it then, but both of these unfortunate bodily side-effects were to be my companion on and off through the rest of the trip.
After just one day of pushing through a very expensive London, our next stop was Paris. Contrary to everything I had been told, I found the Parisians to be quite pleasant. At one point, being distracted by how even the young men working in sandwich shops wore designer clothes, I had a Marilyn moment with an air grate as I strolled along the sidewalk.
Our next memorable stop was a few days staying in a chateau in the Beaujolias Wine Region near Lyon, France. After coming out of the gate at full steam ahead, it was nice to slow down as we got away from the tourist spots. The scenery could have brought out the romantic in even the biggest cynic, but as an outdoorsy girl, the beautiful rolling hills covered in vineyards with occasional chateaus dotting the land took my breath away. It was everything you would expect out of a vineyard found in the French countryside.
After a couple days in that dream of a setting, we started back into rocket speed as we headed to Barcelona, where it rained for the entire day. Even soaking wet, we weren’t about to let it dampen our spirits. Exploring Picasso’s Blue Period in The Picasso Museum was followed up by a seedy flamenco show that brought out an inner-passion I had rarely been lucky enough to find outside of myself. Later, we hit a strip of clubs along the water that the locals liked to frequent. These discos consisted of three-walled clubs with outdoor lounge areas that made the places back home seem drab.
I missed the fabulousness of Cannes and Monte Carlo when my stomach started acting up again, and it continued to get worse until, during one of the first nights in Italy, I ended up in the hospital. Stumbling past our travel companions that were busy with a bottle of Absinthe, my friend and I crawled into a taxi with a four hundred pound driver who drove fast and crazy enough to make me thankful for being in enough pain to distract me from a fear of certain death. That hospital didn’t do much for me, but I did get help in a common Pharmacia the next day where a doctor came out and prescribed me something on the spot. I had heard about how much better health care could be than back in the states, but this was the first time I had experienced it.
Finally back on my feet again, I made it to the statue of Juliet Capulet in Verona located in a courtyard down a narrow alleyway. The tradition of rubbing breast for good luck warmed me, but it wasn’t until Venice that I felt like I was home.
A city built on water. A city of dreams for a personality made of dreams. I watched a model shoot while drinking an incredibly overpriced coffee in St. Mark’s Square ($20 just to sit there) and watching pigeons gather while live music played in the background. Walking into small shops down alleyways where water was being swept out, I checked out all of the different masks and wished we had longer to stay.
Pisa and Florence didn’t impress me much. I was dizzy from all of the different languages, old buildings of massive size, cultural differences and other new information that had been crammed into our heads in such a short time. Plus, I still wasn’t feeling great and being in Italy without being able to enjoy the food was torture.
I was definitely not well enough to go on the horseback riding picnic through Tuscany my friend and I had planned. I was sad to miss it, but I also took a tiny bit of pleasure in screwing up her goal when she had shown so little regard for mine.
Years later, she told me she thought I was mad at her throughout the trip. Not having been mad at all, I was shocked that she had been under that impression, but it also made sense. I’m usually an extrovert, but during this trip, I spent most of the time (as I still do when travelling) quiet and wandering the towns alone. There’s just so much to take in and I didn’t know how I’d react to that.
From what I heard of Rome, I hated it before we even got there. Another big city that’s always crowded and hot. Three things I’m not fond of. I was dreading the visit, but instead of the negative experience I was sure to come, I fell in love the moment we arrived. Like so many other things I was experiencing, hearing about it couldn’t hold a candle to actually being there. The people were passionate, flirtatious and sensual. I had always craved these traits in the people around me and had rarely found it. Now that I had, I greedily ate it up and wanted more. Just as I had first experienced in the Beaujolias Wine Region and then in Venice, parts of me that had always suffocated were finally being given air.
I knew I’d love the island of Corfu when we got to Greece. I had grown up a beach person, so running around in the sun wasn’t something new. It was lovely and it I could do forever, but not so new an experience as the other places we had been. Those long three days of something more familiar and yet still new were a lovely near-close to the trip.
It was a terribly sad ferry ride heading too Athens, but followed up in style as our last day consisted of visits to places of Greek mythology such as The Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Acropolis and Parthenon. Sitting outside a café decorated in all white before my flight the next day, I looked around and enjoyed without pretense. There wasn’t room for a thought in my head at that moment. For once, I was experiencing instead of dreaming. The only thought that did come to mind was that during that trip, I had been doing exactly that all along. Not dreaming, not planning, but finally doing.
I don’t know if I could ever count everything I learned on that first adventure, but there’s a few things that have stuck with me ever since.
1. It’s the unknown that scares us. Once we get out there, it’s rarely that scary.
2. Traveling doesn’t satisfy a curiosity so you can put it to bed. It starts a fire inside of you that leaves you hungry for more.
3. Remember who you are, but never turn down an opportunity and be flexible along the way. You never know where you’ll find happiness.
4. Pay for part of the trip the second you decide to go.
5. Traveling gives an education that can’t be taught in a classroom.
6. Learn as much as you can about the places you’re going and things you’re going to see ahead of time.
7. You will never, ever, ever be the same.
Where have you been and where do you want to go? What would you like to read about here?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I’ve always known who I am. I write, I love the arts, I love people and I love travel. I’m passionate and need to fight for what I believe in. I never had a problem knowing who I am. My battle has been fighting the outside forces that would tell me I am wrong.
There’s only so long we can run from ourselves before surrendering and that’s where I am now. I’ve given into who I am and what I love. That is what you see here.
Photo by Robin Gilmartin