I was 19 years old in my 2nd year of college when 9/11 happened. I was getting ready for class when my roommate told me to look at the TV. Right then and there, we watched as the 2nd plane hit the 2nd tower. We could see the smoke from the towers from our dorm room. That day and the following days, weeks and months changed me forever. Like everyone else, I was scared, confused and realized life was very short. I made a promise to myself that I would seize everyday of my life and take every opportunity that came my way. I was going to stop waiting for things to happen but make things happen for myself. I was ready to travel and see the world.
The following year, I applied to a study abroad program in Spain. Prior to Spain, I had never lived away from my family (my college was 26.3 miles away from my parent’s house, so that doesn’t count). I had never been on my own before. I had never been to Europe before. I had never done anything like this before. Looking back, it seems so silly because now, I’ll just leave and go across the world at the drop of a hat. I spent 6 glorious months in Granada, Spain and traveled all over Europe. I turned 21 there, I learned Spanish there, I backpacked across Europe (does anyone do that anymore?), I stayed at hostels in the same room with complete strangers (does anyone do that anymore?). It was before social media so nobody was tweeting or facebooking, everyone was in the moment. I was living in the moment. I grew up in those 6 months in a way that I never would have if I had stayed in the US. I will talk more about this experience in a future post!
Those 6 months abroad got me hooked. I wanted more. When I graduated college in 2004, I decided not to go to graduate school right away but travel for a year. I worked for 6 months as a nanny in Westchester to save up money. My first big trip was to South East Asia and Korea for 2 months with my best friends. My 2 best friends happened to be teaching English in Korea at the same time. They asked me if I was interested in joining them on a trip to Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and Cambodia. I didn’t even blink. I got all my shots, malaria pills, visas, took a Korean language class and was on my way. I’m so blessed to have very very understanding and loving parents but I can only imagine what they were thinking.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that you can “see” a place simply by looking at pictures because pictures only give you a glimpse. You have to immerse yourself with the people, the food, and the environment. Those 2 months changed me. After that trip, I had an immense feeling of gratitude. Some of the places we visited were so poor, the people had nothing, not even shoes on their feet. The things that we all take for granted everyday like water, electricity and toilet paper were treated like gold there. Not to mention they were all so happy! That trip forced me to look within myself and change the way I wanted to live my life when I got back home.
I’ve traveled to many more 3rd world countries since that trip and it’s taught me to live with less because it’s all just crap at the end of the day. It’s stuff that weighs us down and makes us feel trapped. I choose to fill my life with memories and experiences, exposing myself to different cultures, people, and places. I want to fill my life with human connections and interactions. That’s what travel does for me. It fulfills me in way that I can’t fully describe. I feel like I’m alive. Travel has taught me to be patient and forces me to live in the moment.
Since that SE Asia trip, the longest trip I’ve taken was 2 weeks just because life “happened.” It was time to conform to society so I started grad school, worked, had responsibilities, and blah blah blah. By the way, I can talk for days about how wrong our society is for giving Americans 10 days of vacation! It’s so frustrating but I won’t vent those feelings now. My only regret was not taking longer trips in my early twenties. My one advice for young ladies is to take that trip when you’re young! Because the opportunity might not come back! Study abroad! You’ll learn more abroad than at your school and the only thing you’ll miss are keg parties. As I’ve gotten older, travel has become a priority for me. Travel has become a necessary thing for me to grow as a person and to get inspiration for my life. With every new place I go, it opens a part of me that I never knew existed. What are you waiting for?