For me, travel has come hand in hand with some important changes in my life. My very first trip abroad was in the summer of 2002. Of course, 9/11 was still fresh in everyone’s minds and we were not sure if it was okay to travel yet – and there was a war on with Afghanistan, and war seemed not far off with Iraq as well. But current events weren’t the only things that made me hesitant to go. Just before we left, my paternal grandfather died of leukemia. The funeral was going to happen a day or so after I took off for Paris and London. The trip was a Christmas present from my maternal grandparents and they were taking my cousin as well. I strongly considered not going. But then my parents urged me to go. My paternal grandmother was even for it. They all said, “he would have wanted you to go.” So I went. I was sad, of course, but I had done most of my mourning for him during the course of his long fight with cancer. I made the choice to enjoy my trip as best I could (and I did enjoy it). My memories are perhaps tinged a bit with grief (and also, shock at seeing violent protests in Paris, where people lit themselves on fire).
The point was, I had a choice between living in the moment and embracing every opportunity, or staying behind. Reflecting on the past is of course important but the experience really instilled in me a value of taking every opportunity. Since then a motto of mine has been “savor every moment,” which I considered for the name of this blog. There were times I felt guilty for skipping my grandfather’s funeral. But then I would think of how I was honoring his memory in a different way, by living life to the fullest, which he always did.
During that trip, my cousin and I spent a lot of time with our heads craned over the balcony of our Paris hotel room, watching people in the street below. Strangely, this is one of the things I remember most about the trip. I think it was at that point when I noticed the small differences in the way people lived their lives, and it got me really interested in that fact. I discovered that people are so much the same in other countries – we’re all people, after all – but it was the differences that fascinated me. Perhaps that’s why I went on to study anthropology at college. It was also the beginning of what I hope will be a lifelong relationship with travel. I fell in love with the excitement, the feeling of newness, the uncertainty of it all.
Later, in 2008, I studied abroad in New Zealand. We had an amazing orientation in Auckland and Rotorua and then were dumped in our flats in Dunedin. I went from surrounded by new friends to alone in my cold, unheated flat on an overcast evening. Immediately I thought what the hell am I doing? Can I handle this? I sat there feeling miserable for a little while until I realized it was really stupid to feel so miserable – I was in a new country with so many possibilities and new things to discover. I might have missed my parents and my boyfriend, but what is that compared to having the opportunity of living in a new country? I picked myself up and went out to dinner with my new friends and decided to enjoy myself. Of course, not every day was easy, but I absolutely loved my semester in New Zealand. I realized I could be on my own and be fine. I could take care of myself even in a strange new place.
My self-confidence developed so much in New Zealand. I challenged myself a lot there too. I realized that stepping outside of my comfort zone was the best way to grow as a person. After that, I knew I could travel alone and enjoy it, and that I could jump off bridges and squeeze through tiny cave passages and basically do anything I put my mind to. That’s an incredibly powerful and addictive feeling.
So travel has done a lot for me. I will continue to face my fears and live life to the fullest, as much as I possibly can. Travel and I have many long years of happiness ahead, and I can’t wait.