It’s hard to believe, but this month marks the 4th anniversary since I really started to travel. I’d been on a bunch of family vacations before and throughout my childhood, but it wasn’t until I backpacked through Europe with my sister that I really started to get the travel bug.
My sister and I were both graduating–she from college and I from high school. As a gift to both of us, my parents helped to pay for part of our three week trip from London to Amsterdam, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, and then back to London. It wound up being one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.
Traveling around Europe as a 17 year old was such a crash course in life that I couldn’t even recognize it at the time. Suddenly old enough to drink anywhere (except in London, where it wasn’t a problem), I found freedom that I didn’t have back home. I was sleeping in scummy hostels and learning to meet new people every couple of days. Making “single-serving friends” was a great predecessor to making life-long friends at college.
While there, we just happened to be traveling during Euro 2004, the equivalent of the World Cup, but only for the European countries. We had no idea we were going to be in these countries during these crazy days, and it was complete dumb luck that we saw the awesome display of patriotism in a new place every day. We were in Amsterdam on the day of a Netherlands match, and I swear I’ve never seen so much orange in my life. The entire city was decked out and pubs were packed.
We took a 26 hour train ride from Amsterdam to Rome, which in retrospect wasn’t as bad as it can be, but at the time I thought I was going to lose my mind. I still got to see the French countryside on the trip, which I otherwise wouldn’t have in a plane. I remember being woken up at 1 am in Nice, France to let more people in our compartment, and their stink wafting in, disgusting me. Later, I woke up around 4 am somewhere in Italy and out the window, I was able to see a lake near some mountains. Mist and fog were gently rising above the water, lit up by the pale moonlight that no one else could see but me. It was a golden moment, and it was all mine. Some of my friends were working at summer camps back home, and I was seeing this. The gentle hum of the train on the tracks soon put me back under, and when I woke again we were somewhere in Tuscany.
In Barcelona we knew nothing of the customs, and wondered what kind of party city would have closed bars at 11 pm. The lone idiot tourists eating dinner at 6 pm, we just didn’t get it. I wish I’d known the customs better back then, but I was such a novice traveler, I can hardly hold myself or my sister accountable. Sometimes you just pick things up through experience. Of course, if we’d picked up a book we would have known, but you live and learn.
At a bar, The Netherlands were playing Sweden, and the Dutch crowd had claimed this place as their own. Excited Dutchmen yelled to me and asked me questions that I couldn’t understand. Finally a woman understood and told me that everyone thought I was Dutch, because they, after all, were Dutch. She spoke for me and filled me in on what was going on.
The next night was some great festival to celebrate the summer solstice. On the beach, party-goers were jumping bonfires and setting off fireworks all night long. We were tired and didn’t understand, so we stupidly went to bed around 1 am, rather than seeing the show until dawn.
And now that I see the ads for Euro 2008 on TV, I can’t believe how the time has gone by. How I’ve transformed from a tourist to a traveler. The first time I went to Rome I was so excited to see the Colosseum that I couldn’t wait to get there and take pictures. As a history buff, anything Roman got me excited. But in the years since, seeing so many ruins, the second time I went to Rome I didn’t even bother to stop by the Colosseum.
After I came back from Europe, I thought I was hardcore. I went to my college orientation a week later without anything, thinking I’d rough it like I’d been doing at hostels, only to realize that I needed sheets, a towel, and a change of clothes. I looked like an idiot. My sophomore year saw a perfect opportunity to grow and change. A travel writing and photojournalism class that took a spring break trip to Sicily. It was in Sicily that I decided I wanted to learn Spanish (which was random, I understand) and study in Spain, so that I could continue to travel in Europe.
When I got back I began applying, and in my junior year I was studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain. There, I continued to change, learn Spanish, and travel until I was nearly burnt out.
Other travels aside, I’ve had a pretty good run, considering my age and low bank account. I’ve already been to five continents, and I don’t even have enough money to afford proper traveler’s insurance. Now I must sit and wait. From time to time I get tired of travel, which I suppose happens to all solid travelers. After all, it would do no good to not have a place to recoup, a place to clear your head. I have three months to sit and get bored, and after only two weeks of sitting at home, I can feel myself starting to get the itch. I love to write, and I find my best inspiration comes from my travels. I need to get back on the trail.
In due time I’ll be back in South America, volunteering as an English teacher for a year in Ecuador. I still don’t know where or what kind of students I’ll have, though they’ll most likely be university students. I’ve been reading up on Ecuador, and all signs indicate that there will be hardships, trouble adjusting, and constant inconveniences. And though it sounds stupid, I honestly couldn’t be happier. I thrive on the challenges to cope in a new culture and learn firsthand what it means to be in a different situation than I’m used to. If I’m going to spend most of my life working in a job I hate or struggling to get by on a crappy salary, I’m going to at least go down with a fight. I’ll take that year to do something different and learn, grow, and appreciate. It’s harder to worry about things like boring job after you’ve had to worry about getting enough clean drinking water.
So now I’ll wait, sitting by the cue and bidding my time. Soon enough I’ll be back on the road. And when that happens, you can be sure there will be plenty to talk about.