What I Learned From Three Weeks Abroad

This summer I went on my first ever trip abroad; a travesty, really, because I’m almost thirty (*sob*).  Not only did this trip show me a wide variety of awesomeness in regards to architecture and planetary beauty, it also taught me several valuable lessons of which all persons should be aware.

People are awesome.

The whole reason for the trip to begin with was the fact that (long and windy story short), my student’s mother offered me her place to stay in Grenoble, France whenever I wanted.  That, in and of itself, is a testament that there are still amazing people left in the world even if everyone likes to focus on the assholes.  She also took the time to put me in contact with several different people that she knew both in Paris and in Grenoble so that I wouldn’t be thrust into the thick of things alone.  As much as I like to think that I am high and mighty and could have done just as well on my own, the truth is she saved me valuable time and money and went above and beyond what I even imagined when she first offered up her place.

In addition to being hooked up right from the start, I did not meet one person that was not awesome in one way or another throughout the trip (Minus the person who stole my phone, of course.  They belong in the asshole category).  My hosts took the time to show me around to all the hotspots of Grenoble and Paris, and the people that I met in my hostel in Barcelona were full of amazing stories and immediately made me feel like one of them.  Overall, this trip has shown me that the best face of humanity is still alive and well in the world, and it is all we can do to strive to be one of them.

 The world is huge.

In just the three short weeks that I was traveling, I met people from over 15 different countries: Turkey, Australia, France, Denmark, Czech Republic…the list goes on.  All of those people represented corners of the world that I have not yet explored, and it was made fully real to me the sheer expanse of our planet and how many things we are privileged to be able to experience.  You could spend three lifetimes traveling the world, and still be in need of a fourth and fifth to fully take it in.

The fact that the world is so incredibly expansive made me ashamed that I have experienced such a tiny portion thus far.  There are SO MANY different ways of doing things and SO MANY areas that take your breath away with their beauty.  I think it should be mandatory to have a semester abroad in every high school—extreme, yes, but think of how many relationships would be built, how many minds would be expanded, and how many soon-to-be adults would come back and make a positive impact on our society.

No, you do NOT need that thing.

XL Airways, my carrier of price, er, choice for the trip, gave me the standard two carryons AND a free checked bag.  Because I was given so much space, I merrily stuffed each of the three bags with pretty much my entire wardrobe—and spent the entire trip regretting it.  I wore probably ¼ of the things that I brought, and it was nothing short of torture hauling my ginormous and h.e.a.v.y bags around the metro and from place to place.  Next time, I will definitely be packing much, MUCH lighter.

Traveling really prompts you to embrace a minimalist mentality.  Do you need a cute outfit in case you do something where you need to look nice?  Absolutely.  Do you need 10 of them?  Hell to the no.  Most of your time traveling (unless you specifically book a party trip for whatever reason) is spent walking, which is most comfortably done in a good pair of tennis shoes and yoga pants.  Travel is amazing because of the experiences you will have, and you will have those same experiences if you are wearing a new combination every day or re-wearing an outfit for the 10th time.

Travel is necessary.

When I was in France, I didn’t speak a lick of French.  Everywhere I went, I was surrounded by a sea of words foreign to my ears and an array of indecipherable colorful signs.  While that obviously sucked, it gave me a new appreciation for how it feels to be surrounded by the unknown.  It was a terrifying yet exhilarating feeling.  It also opened my eyes to how important and cool it is to know several languages.  I have had zero desire to learn any other languages in the past, and my trip has definitely sparked an interest to develop the rudimentary Spanish that I possess into full-fledged fluency.

Aside from the whole language thing, travel is a catalyst for mind expansion in its fullest capacity.  You become aware of your priorities, take time to soak up the beauty of the physical universe, and come into contact with so many people who either cause you to solidify your values or mull them over in your mind to possibly be reshaped.  Without travel, we have no contact with something different, so we always remain the same.  And an unchanged life, to me, is the saddest life of all.

Overall, I’m actually grateful that I took the initiative to travel alone.  Traveling puts you in some hairy situations, and you learn how much you can actually rely on yourself.  Getting to know yourself and having the opportunity again and again to authentically be yourself with each new person that you meet is a gift, and one that should be fully taken advantage of.  As much as I would prefer to share the experiences with someone, there were actually relatively few things that I did completely alone-the rest of the time I was with the connections that I had made just a few hours before, which is a beautiful thing in and of itself.

So, friends, where have you traveled lately?  If the answer is to the kitchen and back, I strongly encourage you to book a trip somewhere you’ve never been before.  If there is no one who will accompany you, who cares?  Go alone.  Either way, it will definitely give you amazing memories to look back on and awesome connections to cherish.  And what is life if not a colorful collection of shared and solo moments?

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