Traveling is supposed to be uncomfortable. It is quite literally you leaving your comfort zone, the familiarity of the day to day life that you live. You will be too cold, too hot, too wet, too tired. Your feet will ache. As you lug your stuff around, you might find yourself annoyed that you need so many things, all while wishing you had packed more. You will cram yourself onto planes, trains, buses, metros, trams, Ubers, ferries, boats, and sometimes even find yourself on the back of a live animal to get to your intended destination. You will sleep in strange and sometimes questionable spaces. The space you do have will barely be your own. You will get lost and overwhelmed. You might even find yourself stuck in what might as well be an ancient Roman lift. No matter how cheaply you do it, you’ll see your bank account take a hit. Things will be lost in translation, or maybe not even translatable at all. You will find yourself surrounded by people who look, talk, and maybe even act differently than you. You might find yourself a little scared and a bit stressed at times. You will try things you had never considered before, maybe food, maybe experiences. You will be disconnected from your life, maybe from a lack of wi-fi and cell service or maybe the time difference. You will be completely out of a routine.
But this is the point. If you don’t immerse yourself in all of this uncomfortableness, you might as well have stayed home. That’s the point. Travel gives us this opportunity to step out of our day-to-day life so that we may enrich that day-to-day life. You will push yourself. You will see that you are able to do things you never thought yourself capable of doing. Your plane will land and you will return to your comfortable life with new eyes. You will have a newfound gratitude for the things you overlooked in your life before, whether it’s comforts, material things, or the people around you (or refillable cups of black coffee the size of your head). You will learn so much about this whole wide world and how you fit into it. You will realize just how incredible it is that we are all walking around on this earth living our lives at the same time. Your path will cross with other people’s paths, maybe for a moment, maybe for an hour, maybe for a whole day. But regardless of how long they cross for, you will carry a piece of that person and their life, story, and perspective with you from that point forward. You will realize how someone can live half a world away, look differently than you, speak differently than you, and still have so much to share with you.
I am a talker. I am quite possibly the most talkative introvert you will ever encounter. Sometimes I think I became a teacher because people are forced to listen (I know, I know, this is debatable) to me for eight hours a day AND I get paid for it. However, when I travel, I also leave my talkative comfort zone and I listen. I know that I do not have nearly as much to share with the world at the moment in time as the world has to share with me. I listen to tour guides tell me how what I am looking at came to be. I listen to newfound friends tell me about their lives. I listen to other tourists as they figure out this strange place in front of them. I listen to locals in coffee shops, cafes, buses and trains.
My most recent travels, or #explaurations as they were hashtagged, took me through Europe for three weeks. In that time, I stayed in eight cities in six different countries. I met a lot of people, walked 200 miles, took three high speed trains and four plane rides across Europe. I only almost took out approximately seven unsuspecting locals with my 65 liter pack on the metro. I ate a LOT of carbs in the form of pastries and pizza. I instagrammed enough to annoy my followers and posted over 300 pictures to Facebook. If you would like the old fashioned sit down play by play of my trip, holla atcha girl and we can set something up with my handy dandy projector in my classroom. I saw a lot of incredible things through the three weeks and had a lot of moments where I was like “oohhh that’s what my high school history teacher was talking about!” The pictures of historical sites and Instagramable moments are great, but I don’t think they quite do my trip justice. I also tried to think of a way to write a post that tied all of my experiences together in a nice, pretty bow, but I was unsuccessful (I’m inclined to blame jet lag and carb withdrawal), so I am going to take the Buzzfeed approach and make a list of moments, things, and observations from my three weeks abroad.
1.) One of my favorite things in Cophenhagen, Denmark was learning about and observing the Hygge way of life. It basically means creating a warm atmosphere in your life, both physically and mentally. Comfort foods, cozy clothes, and good people. That sounds like a life I could get used to!
2.) I love street music, a cold beer, people watching, water, beautiful buildings, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and “Moon River.” I swear these all go together. We stopped for a local beer on Nyhavn in Copenhagen. That is the stretch of colorful buildings and boats you’ve seen if you’ve ever seen a picture of Copenhagen. While we were sitting there, a talented musician started playing “Moon River” from the Audrey Hepburn classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. There is a line in the song that goes “Two drifters, off to see the world. There’s such a lot of world to see.” It was one of those moments where you feel like you are right where you are supposed to be.
3.) The two year anniversary of my mom’s death happened while I was in Brussels, Belgium. At one point, I contemplated avoiding being out of the country on that day because I wanted to allow myself the opportunity to be sad. That would have ticked my mom off to no end. Her death was a reminder to always live my life. I learned that being half a world away from home did not make the loss sting any less and I had a really long, solid bathroom cry. But I got through it and reminded myself how proud she would be of me doing something I loved.
4.) During a tour of Brugge, Belgium, I was reminded of just how small this world really is. We met a woman from India who was going to school in the United States. Upon talking to her more, it turns out she is studying just down the interstate from where I grew up.
5.) Our itinerary included a quick stop in Paris. At first, I wasn’t sure about this only because I had been to Paris about four years ago and there are so many places in Europe that I would like to see. However, there is something really special about going back to a place you have been when you were in a completely different place in life. Paris will always have a special piece of my heart. Audrey Hepburn was right when she said “Paris is always a good idea.”
6.) While I was wandering the streets of Paris, I happened upon a street called Rue du Quatre-Septembre, aka the street of the 4th of September. I looked it up and it has something to do with Napoleon and French history and blah blah blah. But it’s significant to me because it is the day of my mom’s birthday. Half a world away from where I lived life with her, a little piece of her was with me on this trip and I couldn’t help but smile, especially after the hollow loneliness I felt in my heart starting another year without her.
7.) Large bodies of water and beautiful sunsets will always make me feel all of the feels. In Nice, France, I stood with my toes in the sea and had another one of those moments that told me I was right where I was supposed to be.
8.) There are always new places to discover, even when you’ve been somewhere before. Barcelona was also on our itinerary. I had traveled around Spain last year, and again questioned if I really wanted to go back to Spain so soon. Well we did a day trip to visit and hike Monserrat and it was INCREDIBLE.
9.) Masterpieces take time. Last year I visited Sagrada Familia when I was in Barcelona. This year I had to go back and check on the progress. Construction started in 1882. It is not scheduled to be completed until approximately 2027. It is incredible to see, and I like it as a reminder that if it’s a work in progress and people still love it then it’s okay for me to be a work in progress too.
10.) While in Barcelona, I received word that one of my students had tragically passed away. I think some people use travel as a way to run away from life, and I’ve done the same. This was a reminder that you can’t run away from life. It also served as a reminder that all of our days are numbered, and we should live all of them the best we can.
11.) Last year when I was in Madrid, it never dropped below 100 degrees and the sun was in full force. This year, I spent about 24 hours in Madrid, 20 of which were rainy and cold. This reminded me that there really are no perfect travel conditions, but that doesn’t make a place any less magical (or churros any less delicious).
12.) I want to see all of Italy.
13.) I could eat pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for months in Italy and it still wouldn’t be enough.
14.) Meeting new people in foreign cities is the best. In Rome we met a man from San Fran and his cousin from London. They were both originally from Iran and had not seen each other in quite some time. They were on there way to a wedding that was originally scheduled to be in the United States but had to be moved to Europe because of Trump’s travel ban not allowing some of the family that is still in Iran to enter to country. As if the travel ban wasn’t upsetting enough, put names and faces and conversations to it. We are all members of a global society and we would do well to remember that. We also traveled to a small Italian town called Frascati for a wine and pizza tour (you read that right). There we met several people, but stayed after the tour ended and shared a bottle of wine with a wonderful couple from San Francisco while listening to a local man play Italian songs on the guitar to his wife. The world is often messy and awful, but every once in a while, you realize just how incredible the life we live truly is, surrounded not by strangers, but only people we haven’t yet met, and it’s pretty incredible to get to be a part of it all. I am forever grateful for these people whose paths cross mine.
15.) Music is a universal language. The Lumineers are one of my favorite bands of all time, and I’ve been trying to see them live for years. I kid you not, through all of my travels last year, they were always one city ahead of me. When they released their tour for this year, I noticed immediately that they were in Barcelona and Madrid opposite days as me and I actually tweeted at them that they needed to change that. Unfortunately, they did not respond. But I looked at more of their dates and noticed that we would be in Rome at the same time. I may or may not have audibly squealed. It was incredible. I had visited the Vatican that morning, but if we are being completely honest, live music in a new city was a way more spiritual experience for me. That, and the pizza and wine experience.
16.) I think cooking is cool as long as it is a novelty experience.
17.) No country is without its problems. Greece is a beautiful country with a lot of struggles right now. I really appreciated people who were openly willing to explain what was happening in the country to me.
20.) There are few things as good for the soul (especially as you reflect on the ending of a three week adventure) as a sunset. I also realized that my mom is never too far away from me. As we made the trek up a mountain to watch the sunset with views of the Acropolis and the Parthenon on my last night, a street musician was playing “Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be). My mom used to sing this to me all of the time.
This world is so big and so small all at once. There is so much to be and see and do, both in travel and in our day to day life, right where we are. Travel will be thrilling, exhausting, exciting, terrifying, and overwhelming all at once. It will remind us not to travel outside of our comfort zone just physically, but figuratively in our day to day life. I’m grateful for this experience and already looking forward to where my next adventure will take me. (New Zealand, I’m coming for you).