For the better part of the last seven years, I have been living abroad. Either living and working in a specific place, or traveling around, exploring as much as I can in the time that I have. Over that time, I have been asked countless times why I choose to travel. And after many times answering that I wanted to see the world and meet people around the world… I started to actually think about why I decided to travel. And, I think, it boils down to three experiences I’ve had. So I thought I’d write about it.
When I was young, my grandfather bought me a computer. I’m not sure exactly when this happened, but it was definitely pre-widespread internet. Or, at the very least we did not have internet. What the computer did have was an encyclopedia. (And a math game based underwater with some fish… I liked that game.) Being the super cool young child that I was, I started reading through the encyclopedia and it wasn’t very long before I stumbled on a 360° travel page. It was basically just photos of famous places. It stood you in the middle, and you could drag the view around to see the full 360° view. This is pretty standard now, but it blew my little mind. There were many of them, but the two that stuck out to me the most were Grand Place, in Brussels, and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. I can still remember the fascination I felt seeing them. Especially the Grand Place, because the photos were taken at night, post a rainstorm, and the lights were shining and reflecting off the wet ground. It looked so alive. I wanted desperately to go and see it in real life. That was where the wanderlust was born, I think.
After graduating from University, I moved to Chicago. I transferred within the company that I was working for, and had a relatively smooth transition, even if it was a relatively low paying job. Despite that, I started saving money, and in the spring of 2010, I was finally ready to take my first solo trip to Europe. (It was my third trip, overall, but first without a travel buddy) I saved all my money, and my vacation days at work, and took off to Europe on a two week adventure to Dublin, Brussels, and Prague. I was finally going to see Grand Place, and I could not have been more excited. It was amazing, and I had such a great time. And then I arrived in Prague. I loved it intensely. I met great people from around the world, and had such a wonderful time. And then something strange happened. A volcano erupted in Iceland, shutting down the entire European airspace for several days. My flight from Prague back to Dublin was cancelled, and soon after that my flight from Dublin back home was cancelled as well. I went up into the hills above Prague that afternoon, and just sat and people watched for awhile. And I realized how desperately happy I was that my flights had been cancelled. It wasn’t just a ‘woohoo! longer vacation!’ type of happy. It was a relief that I didn’t have to go back. I realized how much I hated my job, and how much that was affecting my life. I didn’t like where I lived, or how I lived. Sitting there, I realized I had some big changes that I had to make. I was tired of being unhappy. And tired of feeling like unhappy was the only choice.
After that fateful day in Prague, (and it may have actually been later that same day) I went to the bus station. Buses were pretty much the only way to move around Europe, as the trains had all filled up immediately after the planes stopped. After waiting in line for about 2 hours, I asked about buses leaving that day, and there were none. But the man told me they were trying to get an extra bus to make an overnight trip to Paris. He told me they should know within the next hour, so I hung around, and 45 minutes later, I had a bus ticket to Paris. I messaged a friend of mine from high school that was living there, and she agreed to let me stay with her. And so I added a fourth city to my journey.
One afternoon in Paris, we had a picnic near the Seine, as that is, apparently, what you do on beautiful sunny spring days in Paris. We talked about a lot of things, and one thing that rocked my world at that point was my friend stating, “My 16 year old self would have been so proud of me, if she could see me now.” And I knew without a doubt that that was true. She and I had bonded mostly over a shared love of all things French. And I thought about how my 16 year old self would have felt if she could have seen me. And while I think she would have been proud of some things, I knew without a doubt that the changes I had thought about just the day before were the only way to live up to the idealistic dreams of 16 year old me.
Long story short, when I finally arrived back in Chicago, I was back at work the next day, and spending all of my downtime researching ways to move abroad. 4 days after I arrived back in the states, I had made my decision and walked into the TEFL Institute in Chicago to begin the process of being certified to teach English abroad. That summer, I quit my job (as a birthday present to myself) and moved to Korea in the fall.
I’ve never regretted it.
But sometimes I wonder what would have happened if little things had changed over the course of that time. Before going to Europe, I had applied for another transfer to Austin, Texas. I did not get the position, and therefore didn’t have to use my trip money to move across the country. I was so disappointed about not getting that job, but looking back at it now, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. But what if the volcano hadn’t erupted? What if my friend had been busy that weekend? What if the ONLY bus they had, had gone somewhere else? What if there had been no more buses?
So I leave you with this:
How would your sixteen year old self feel if they were looking at you right now?