Traveling Out of Your Comfort Zone

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.

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A good cup of coffee in Nyhavn has me well on my way to living the hygge life.

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.

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New friends in Brugge

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.”

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I could probably wander the streets of Paris forever

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.

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Nice looking Nice

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.

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This dress is literally called the “Take a Hike” dress, so I had to help it fulfill it’s purpose.

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.

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Oh my Gaudi. I think I just need to keep going back to Sagrada Familia every year until it is completed.

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.

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13.) I could eat pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for months in Italy and it still wouldn’t be enough.

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I could easily live somewhere were pizza and wine are staples.

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.

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16.) I think cooking is cool as long as it is a novelty experience.

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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.

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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.

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Me deep in thought, trying to figure out how I would capture everything this trip was to me in one blog post

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).

Bask in Your Insignificance

I’ve officially been back in the United States for a week and a half and I think I’m about as recovered from my jet lag as I will ever be. Seriously, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past week and a half wondering how jet set celebrities and business people ever get back on a normal schedule. Why am I hungry for breakfast at midnight? Why am I wide awake at 3:30am and falling asleep at 7pm? A few people have asked when I would write a blog post about Spain, and I gave some lame excuses when in reality, I was pretty sure that no one wanted a day by day explanation of my trip. If that’s what you want, I would be happy to sit through my Facebook and Instagram posts with you. For real though, we used to make people sit in dark basements for slideshows of vacations. Now I post them online so that 850 of my closest friends can be a part of the journey.

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So I decided I would approach this blog post with the highlights of my trip. Although I saw some truly incredible things, those aren’t the things that made my trip to Spain unforgettable. When I booked my trip to Spain in February, I wrote a post about what led me to Spain. Although my original plan was to do a solo trek around Spain, I booked the trip through a tour company for 18-28 year olds, partially because it was the only way my dad would be able to sleep while I was away and partially because it seemed a lot easier than figuring out lodging and transportation on my own.

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So early on a rainy Wednesday morning, I set out on my journey. I took a bus from Peoria to the airport. One of my favorite things about my dad is that he will let me head off to Spain by myself, but he won’t let me stand at a bus stop in the rain by myself. The days leading up to the trip had been rough. The one year anniversary of my mom’s death came and went. I had been in a bit of a funk. The anniversary hit me harder than I had anticipated and I was having a hard time feeling like myself. I would even say I had the mean reds.

Holly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?

Paul: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?

Holly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

-Breakfast at Tiffany’s

As excited as I was for Spain, I was afraid my intense emotions would overshadow my trip, so much so that I had second thoughts about going on a trip I had talked about incessantly for years. I decided to do what my mom had always told me to do when I was scared to do anything. I gave it a try and decided I could always buy a plane ticket and come home early if I wanted to. I also had a good solid cry in the bathroom of the international terminal at O’Hare. Never underestimate the power of a good public cry. I let it out, wiped my tears, and boarded the plane with renewed excitement.

I didn’t know anyone going on the trip. While a lot of people thought this was crazy, anyone who knows me well knows that I love spending time with myself. Although I hoped that there would be people on my trip that I liked enough to spend 12 days with, I had The Bachelor mindset that I wasn’t there to make friends. Fate had different plans.

I got comfortable in my seat, buckled in for an 8 hour flight, and popped a sleeping pill. I overheard the two young women next to me talking about their connecting flight to Barcelona. I took out my earbuds and informed them that I too was going on to Barcelona, so maybe we could navigate the airport together. Also, if they could make sure that sleeping pill didn’t knock me out so much that I missed my connecting flight, that would be great. We soon discovered that we were on the same trip. They were childhood friends with another friend joining them once we arrived in Spain. We made some small talk, discovering that we were all teachers, before I impressed them with my sleeping skills in-flight.

We made it to Barcelona (barely) from Madrid and made our way to our first hostel.  It turned out that we were all put together for our first rooming assignment. I didn’t expect to spend much time with them, but I was really glad that they seemed like people who probably wouldn’t kill me in my sleep.  Clearly I’m a very good judge of character because they didn’t! We ended up spending the majority of the trip together and I am so very glad because they took a good trip and made it great. I was continually amazed at how well these three people who had known each other the majority of their lives managed to continually make me feel so included. They taught me a lot over the course of our 12 days together.

1.) Despite what I thought, I really can stand being with the same people for more than a few days.

2.) Patience (see previous blog post). People who use the snooze button aren’t actually the worst kind of people, but you can’t change people who are snooze button people. (Seriously, I’m so anti-snooze button that I could dedicate a whole blog post to why it shouldn’t exist. Set your alarm for the latest possible time you need to get up and then get your booty out of bed.) Sometimes wandering around because people can’t made a decision will lead you to a delicious tapas restaurant, a Pride event in Barcelona, or an unexpected sight.

3.) It is good the be independent and able to go out into the world on your own, but sometimes it is more fun with good people around you.

4.) It really is possible to make friends as an adult.

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Things Spain taught me to appreciate:

1.) A giant to-go cup of black coffee. (A woman actually laughed at me in a cafe when I asked her about a to-go cup.)

2.) Air-conditioning

3.) Regular sleep schedules

4.) All you can drink tap water at restaurants

5.) Beverages with ice in them

6.) Showers that last longer than 17 seconds and bathroom lights that don’t shut off every 5 seconds

While in Spain, I spent time in Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, Seville, and Costa del Sol. People always want to know what my favorite place was, and I really think that is like asking someone to choose their favorite child. It’s impossible. Each place offered something new and had its own unique experiences. Now if I had to choose a favorite experience, it would have to be one that had very little do with Spain and lots to do with the world.

My favorite thing about traveling is learning about people and discovering how I fit into this big world. I stopped at a cafe to grab a snack and some WiFi. A stranger struck up a conversation with me about how hard it is to find someone to have an English conversation with and a good, large cup of black coffee in Spain (love you Spain, but learn a thing or two about coffee from America). I soon learned he was a Muslim Indian Professor of International Politics from London, visiting Seville as a way to get away from the turmoil in the UK for a bit. We talked teaching, religion, family, food, Trump (FYI the world is watching in fear about what will happen in November), sports, and our views of the world. Sometimes our lives overlap with someone else’s for only a few hours, but they can change the way you see the world forever.

If I could give people one piece of advice, it would be to buy a plane ticket, go somewhere where you don’t know anyone, and bask in how truly insignificant you are to the world. This sounds brutal but it is actually quite wonderful. It is one heck of a way to learn about who you are and how you fit into this big world. It demagnifies the day-to-day struggles that we feel weighing us down. You see yourself and the world differently. We are members of a global community and it is important that we always remember that, especially in today’s world.

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Me basking in my insignificance in Granada

I started dreaming about Spain the second the wheels of my plane touched down upon returning from Paris a few years ago. The thing about the travel bug is there really is no cure. The more of the world you see, the more you want to see. So where will I bask in my insignificance next? In addition to wanting to see more of the good ol’ US of A, I’m thinking New Zealand. Stay tuned!