I’ll admit it. Before this summer, I was a regional hermit. I was your average New England girl that loved the woods. I was the girl that looked like she belonged in a Subaru commercial with my dog in the backseat, tongue out and everything. I liked the idea of adventure. I was just a bit….well okay…..TERRIFIED of leaving my bubble of trees, mountains, harmless critters, infinite lobster, and the beauty of coastal Maine. But this summer changed my entire perspective on the world and my entire perspective on living.
I went to Europe for the first two weeks of July with a friend from college and one of her friends from Missouri. I was pretty lost in my life (I was unemployed by choice and my ex-boyfriend and I broke up after an almost two year relationship). I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted out of life as an almost twenty-four year old millenial. All I knew was that I wasn’t happy in the relationship I was in, and that I had been having doubts about my place in the teaching world. I had lost touch with some of the things I knew made me happy, and I knew in the next chapter of my life, I was going to have to make more time for painting, writing, and, well,…traveling. Committing to this past summer getaway with two girl pals was one of the best decisions I’ve ever followed through with.
Granted, I had my reservations about it from the start. I had never been on a plane before and I didn’t speak German or French or whatever the hell people in Switzerland speak. I was pretty anxious up until the day we strolled into Logan Airport, awaiting our first flight to Iceland. Before the trip even started, I thought I was going to vomit on the plane. I thought I was going to have a panic attack once we landed in Germany. But I didn’t, and that truly surprised me. I was as cool as a cucumber for most of the trip because, for once in my life, I lived in the moment. I didn’t think about the past and I didn’t worry about the future. I practiced carpe diem, seizing each and every day I was in Europe; a beautiful and breathtaking continent riddled with old architecture and charming street drinkers.
Our trip started in Germany. We landed in Frankfurt and we spent the first few days acclimating to hearing more German that English. We spent our first Euros on cheap (but delicious and high in alcohol percentage) wine at an Aldi’s (the only time I actually got carded the entire trip) and we took in the first impressions of a country known for it’s beer, soft pretzels, and sausages. From there, we visited Heidelberg and it’s still standing castle on the rainiest day of our trip. I remembered feeling like I was trapped in a Leonid Afremov painting as we walked through the town. I admired the glossy look of the streets and the town’s twinkling lights that peeked out from behind the pouring rain. The next day, we ventured onto Strasbourg, France where we made our way through bustling crowds, explored several old churches, tried duck for the first time, saw flat screen televisions showcasing the World Cup in outside cafes, and enjoyed visiting all the trinket shops.
We were in France for a night and then headed back to Germany for a day in Freiberg followed by a day of hiking in the Black Forest. My tailbone is still a bit bruised from the sketchy-ass slide I went down (and wiped out on) in front of a group of German and Australian onlookers. I peeled for days from the sunburn I acquired on that hike, but it was all incredibly worth it and difficult to forget. We hiked ten miles over rolling hills, through forests, and we ran with cows that had made the top of the Black Forest their indefinite home. It was the most I felt at home despite being thousands of miles away from Maine. Even the German hikers that passed us greeted us with the same warmth and politeness as my fellow New Englanders did. Our next stop was in Switzerland where we ran into some hurdles due to our lack of research. For instance, we couldn’t charge our phones because their outlet system was different compared to the rest of Europe. It was also the first time we were scolded by two elderly women for not speaking German (when I already felt terrible for not knowing their language and selfishly expecting they would know mine). But the five mile hike in Uetliberg and the remainder of the day in Zurich made all of the problems we encountered less significant.
We spent the next day in Schwangau, Germany exploring terrain for hours below the German Alps, talking about our individual troubles and woes, and ending our night by indulging in dinner and drinks at a small restaurant. The next morning consisted of getting up early and visiting the castle known in German as Schloss Neuswanstein (which I guess is the castle that Walt Disney used as inspiration for the castle in Cinderella). We ended the day by visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp. As emotional as it was taking in a time where such inhumanity lived, it was an experience where I truly appreciated and felt blessed with what I had in my life.
The rest of the trip consisted of stopping in Munich, Rothenberg der Tober, Wurzberg, and Bamberg. Munich was neat, but overwhelming to say the least. Christopher Day (or what we call the Pride Parade) was occurring on the day we just so happened to be in the city. It was wonderful to see so many people in a different country come together to celebrate diversity, but it was stressful at times navigating through the bustling and populated streets. Rothenberg der Tober was a quaint medieval town known for it’s crafted cuckoo clocks and filled with half timber houses. I loved the amount of history and culture packed into such a small town. Wurzberg ended up being a detour that we didn’t regret visiting after a few hours of exploring the town and taking pictures next to life size statues of wine. We spent that night in Bamberg where we roamed throughout the town under the stars as wide-eyed American girls, drunk on cheap 11.0% wine and life. We filled our mouths with caramel chocolates and filled our hearts with Europe’s beauty.
Of course, all good things come to an end, and I flew back to the US with more than just pieces of art I collected, chocolate for my friends and family, and wonderful memories I had made with two incredible girl pals. Even though I had missed my home state, I immediately wanted to jump back on a plane and do it all over again. I now had this craving for more adventure and this longing to get lost in foreign lands. I don’t regret spending one penny of the 1600 dollars I spent to make this trip happen. I’ve realized that traveling isn’t something you need to have a lot of money to do (though it certainly helps). It’s something that takes dedication and determination to do. Sure, we can dream all we want in our heads about exploring the castles of Scotland and sinking our feet into the sand on Caribbean shores. But a dream will never be anything more than just that unless we buy that plane ticket and dedicate our time to a moment in our lives where we can go where we want to go and be whoever we want to be.
Traveling in my 20’s has certainly given me more perspective about the world and the different ways you can live in it. This sort of insight has even seeped into my thoughts about building relationships with people and settling down in the future for the generic American Dream life. You can travel at any point in your life whether it’s in your 20’s, 30’s, 50’s, and, hell, even 70’s. But the experiences you’ll have and the outlooks on life you’ll have while traveling are likely to be different when you’re 20 versus when you’re 50. But traveling in my 20’s has allowed to me to erase the “what if” question from my future. Lately, I’ve tried to live more in the moment than in the past or the future. I’ve tried to tap into this beautiful moment of my life where I am single and free of being tied down to anything and anyone (except for my dog who would be happy in the care of my mom or other relatives when I choose to do things on a whim). This is a period of my life that I don’t want to regret and not traveling enough when I’m young and somewhat fit is something I know I would regret in the retrospection of my 40’s.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t travel if they aren’t in their 20’s. I’m sure I’ll still be taking whatever vacations I can to see other parts of the world when I’m 65 and retired (here’s hoping). But I think traveling in your 20’s gives you so much perspective on the world that you don’t get just through watching videos or reading articles about other places in world. Traveling to a different country for the first time is a lot like going on a first date with someone off of Tinder. Before committing to the vacation or the date, your only impression and perception of the place or person is based on the research you’ve done. It isn’t until you finally meet up at a bar or get off the plane that you experience the true physical sense of that person or that land. Exploring a different country is a lot like exploring the heart and mind of a person. One day isn’t going to be enough to know the full story, but the more time you spend with a person or in a country, the more you’ll know whether you may want to come back for another chapter of the story.
I have now established the goal of visiting a different country every summer for however long it seems fitting for my lifestyle. I’m fortunate in that way to be a teacher where I have my summers off and get paid through the duration of it. I have also established the goal of trying to visit a different state in the US every year during a holiday or school break. As much I love Maine and plan to permanently settle down in it (whether or not I am married, have kids, and a house), I know there is a whole world out there that my soul is just waiting to latch onto, even if it’s only for a day or a few hours of my life.
Life is like a shooting star. If you aren’t always looking, you might miss your chance to see some pretty amazing things and to meet some pretty wonderful people. And these are the moments I don’t want to regret not taking and these are the people I don’t want to sit in my room just dreaming about meeting. Be adventurous and spontaneous whenever you can because life is too short to be disappointed and to be haunted by the soul crunching phrase what if.