Today's post comes from my friend Sam. You may remember that yesterday was her 30th birthday or that I have written about trips to her hometown in North Dakota not once, but twice! When we met, it clicked faster than any other friendship post-college. My life in Minnesota would not be half as fun, if not for her. She can also sing, act, play guitar and piano, and never fails to make me laugh..
|Sam and I hanging out in North Dakota.|
When I was a kid, I thought I was super lame because I had only been to two states (Minnesota and North Dakota). Unless you counted the ten minutes I had spent with my parents driving through a corner of South Dakota. Then it was three. Three whole states in my ten years of life. I was a failure.
When my friends would speak of their travels to far-off places like Wisconsin or Iowa where they’d traveled, I couldn’t fathom the distances they had gone; the exotic places they had seen; the well-rounded 6th graders they had become. I was so boring and grounded. My parents never went anywhere, and I was a less interesting person because of it.
Well, as the years passed and I matured into a carefree college student, I discovered that the key to travelling lay within one simple concept: Adult Autonomy.
The first time I ever traveled outside of the United States to something more interesting than Canada was during my junior year of college back in 2005 for a study abroad program that entailed going to the continent of Europe for a majority of the spring semester. The trip was adequately named “Eurospring” and I signed up for it because I was in charge of my life now, and God be damned if I wasn’t going to become cool by going somewhere far away.
I also might have signed up because everyone else was doing it and I hadn’t “found” myself yet and maybe, just maybe, “I” was hiding somewhere in Europe.
Of course I had never really dreamt of going to Europe, in particular. The boring English sitcoms that my parents watched on PBS hadn’t really rubbed off on me and as a result I had no desire to experience funny accents or driving on the left side of the road. But this was a trip that would look amazing on my travel resume. I’d surely emerge from this experience a better and more brilliant person. Seven countries in two months, visiting famous landmarks, frolicking in the London fog; it sounded like the perfect concoction for worldliness. My excitement began to grow as our takeoff date grew near. The preliminary travel sessions we attended for the program were filled with helpful information for Americans visiting Europe for the first time: Europeans don’t wear jeans, so don’t bring any unless you want to stand out. Europeans don’t switch their fork to their right hand when eating, so learn to eat continentally. Europeans hate Americans so say you’re from Canada when approached by one. Unless you’re in France. Then you’re screwed
|Eurospring with Sam on the far left.|
.Armed with this sage advice, I and all of my friends hopped on a plane en route to Heathrow and proceeded to do everything that you could possibly do in Europe over the course of two months. I saw castles and dungeons and Stonehenge and the Vatican and the Eiffel Tower. I visited London 9 separate times and rode a bicycle through Paris. I ferried across the English Channel and swam in the Adriatic Sea. I spent pounds and euros and crowns and I drank beer and wine and absinthe.
So much absinthe.
After two months of apparent European bliss, I returned to the US as, what I envisioned, a savvy globetrotter who had tons of worldly experience. As my boyfriend’s mom drove us home from the airport I was surprised by how big everything in America was. Buildings, cars and even the roads they drove on seemed unnecessarily large because I had grown so used to Europe’s smaller scale. Home was almost foreign to me and I felt like I had conquered being a well-travelled citizen.
But by the time we got home, the only thing that seemed to be still affecting me from my European adventure was the jet lag that was conveniently allowing me to wake up at 6am. In regards to my worldly transformation, I felt like I had always felt: like myself.
Since that trip, I’ve visited Europe six separate times on my own. Each one of those trips lasted just a fraction of the time that I spent there during my study abroad, but each of those little jaunts across the pond had more of an effect on me than the two months I spent there during my junior year of college.
|Sam on the far left, hanging out in the Azores.|
Why? Because, I learned to travel with intent. After I graduated, I somehow became lucky enough to have friends and family who lived abroad and I decided to make the most of my long distance relationships. I took advantage of their hospitality and got to see a more intimate portrayal of the same far off lands I had visited in college. I took my time and nurtured the relationships I had with my friends and family rather than worry about seeing and doing everything. As a result, I relaxed into my temporary surroundings and became acquainted with some of the locals, so much so, that I had an international love affair for the better part of 2011 and played music in a Portuguese bar just last year. In finding a reason to travel that was more than “I should do it, everyone else is”, I found more satisfaction in what I experienced and actually did learn something about myself: I am who I am, and I can embrace that and be happy.
All of that advice in our travel sessions before Eurospring seemed to be geared towards hiding the fact that we were Americans, which I’ve learned since, is impossible to do if you are indeed an American in Europe. (It’s even more difficult to do when you’re an American college student with 30 other American college students riding around in a vehicle labeled “Eurobus” for two months.) Throughout my independent travels, I’ve come to accept that my nationality is something I can’t change and is a significant part of who I am, just like so many other facets of myself. Travelling with intent taught me that it’s ok to be you and you shouldn’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks about it.